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Centre for Trophoblast Research


Embryo donations


The research that is being done at the University of Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research is concerned with early human embryo development.

If you wish to contribute to our research, you may donate any of your surplus embryo(s), egg(s) or sperm that are currently kept in storage. Donations to the Centre for Trophoblast Research projects will help to increase our knowledge of an aspect of human biology that is currently poorly understood.

We hope that the results of these studies will benefit medical knowledge in a number of important ways, including:

  • Improving our understanding of the conditions that are important for growing human preimplantation embryos in a petri dish. We hope that ultimately these insights lead to improvements in the treatment of infertility and benefit other patients trying to have a baby through the use of in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
  • Improving our understanding of how cells early in the human embryo become more specialised during development. The first critical step in this process is when a small subset of cells are set aside to form eventually the fetus, whilst another subset of cells differ in their fate to form the placenta. The latter supports the development of the fetus throughout the pregnancy. We are interested in how these specialisation events occur and are regulated before embryo implantation. Understanding the genes that are essential for this first important specialisation process will we believe provide insight into some causes of pregnancy failures and birth defects. Understanding this important switch in cell fate may also provide a deeper understanding of stem cell formation.
  • Developing stem cell lines that can be taken out of the embryo and multiplied in the laboratory for many years. This can help us study and understand more fully devastating human diseases at the cellular level in the laboratory and potentially develop new treatments.



How to donate

Embryo(s), egg(s) or sperm can be donated to our research projects whether stored for your own use in the future or donated for use by others, but are now no longer required or unable to be used. Before making a decision to donate it is important for you to understand why the research is being undertaken and what it will involve.

Please read the information sheets and consent documents attached below carefully, discuss it with others if you wish, and feel free to ask us if there is anything that is not clear or if you would like more information before making a decision. You are invited to take as much time as needed before making a decision on whether or not to participate in research focused on an important aspect of early human development. We very much appreciate you taking the time to consider donations to research project.

After deciding on a research project please contact your clinic to make them aware of your wishes and together we will make arrangements for the transfer of your donated embryo(s), egg(s) or sperm to research projects at the Centre for Trophoblast Research.

Center for Trophoblast Research on human embryos is currently conducted by:

Kathy Niakan

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Azim Surani



Research Funding

This research is funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK and the University of Cambridge Centre for Trophoblast Research. Future funding could also include sources from other public funding agencies, private donors and companies.



Patient information and consent

All research using donated embryo(s), egg(s) or sperm are carried out under a license from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, after approval from Research Ethics Committees. Research license information can be found on the HFEA website, under ‘Human embryo research we have approved’



Placental and endometrial donations


The Centre for Trophoblast Research (CTR) promotes research into maternal-fetal interactions during normal pregnancy and how complications, such as infertility, miscarriage, restricted growth of the baby and pre-eclampsia, arise. Women’s health is an understudied area, which causes considerable ill-health and distress. Pregnancy-related complications and disorders account for much of this burden, causing significant maternal and fetal maternal morbidity and mortality, and having life-long effects on the mother and her offspring. The World Health Organisation estimates 800 women die worldwide each day due to issues around pregnancy and childbirth. Pre-term birth complications, birth asphyxia, birth trauma and neonatal sepsis and infections account for 8% of global disease burden (WHO). The CTR brings together researchers interested in different aspects of reproduction and pregnancy, from basic science to clinically related projects. It also includes clinicians and scientists working on virally-induced cervical and endometrial cancer, and on conditions such as endometriosis.

The CTR Biology of the Human Uterus in Pregnancy and Disease Biobank, REC reference number 17/EE/0151 facilitates bringing together both non-pregnant and pregnant maternal endometrial samples from the womb, and placental samples at different stages of gestation. Specifically, our tissue collection includes:

  • First trimester samples from women undergoing terminations of pregnancy
  • Term placental tissue samples from healthy and pathological pregnancies
  • Endometrial scratch biopsies form patients undergoing fertility treatments

All samples are collected on an anonymised basis.  The tissue is utilised to address questions pertaining to reproductive health. The principal focus of the CTR research is the establishment of a normal pregnancy and the origins of complications, such as miscarriage, poor fetal growth and pre-eclampsia. We are also interested in how common disorders of the endometrium, the lining of the womb, may arise, such as endometriosis and endometrial and cervical cancers.

The research takes a basic science, laboratory-based approach, involving experimental manipulations of cell cultures, or analyses of gene activity or cellular signalling networks in different tissues or cell isolates. We are interested ultimately in translating our findings to improving clinical outcomes. To this end, the research is based on samples from clinically well-phenotyped groups of women; for example, we investigate molecular and genetic markers of endometrial function in women with infertility or recurrent miscarriage. We also investigate how the placental molecular pathology differs in sub-types of pre-eclampsia, shedding light on the origins of this syndrome with the hope of identifying new avenues for intervention or treatment.

Whilst the majority of the data produced is relevant to the discipline of women's health, it is possible that some of the more basic research may have implications for the wider bio-medical field; for example, knowledge of the transcriptional networks maintaining trophoblast or endometrial stem cells may be relevant to other cell types. Equally, understanding the immune interactions at the maternal-fetal interface between genetically-related, but different, individuals may provide new insights into the evolutionary selective pressures that have shaped our immune system.