PhD candidate eyes a bigger chance for little ones

Jesica Hurst // Special to Western News

Research by Carlee White, a Western PhD candidate, has shown that assisted reproductive technologies increase genomic imprinting disorders between four and 16 times. White hopes the findings help Obstetrics & Gynecology researchers figure out the safest way to use technologies.

Carlee White, a Western PhD candidate, always wanted a career that would help make a positive impact on people’s lives. Her research on early embryo development and genomic imprinting has brought her one step closer to her goal of giving people a second chance at having a child.

“Ultimately, that’s what I want to do once I’m finished my PhD,” she said.

Born and raised in Brantford, Ont., White originally made the decision to attend Western because it was close to home and had a beautiful campus. Little did she know she would spend the next eight years of her life here, working toward her goal of helping people start a family.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Genetics, she searched for a supervisor for her master’s degree. She came across professor Melissa Mann and the research she was working on in the Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Biochemistry.

“I went to her lab because she studies early embryo development and genomic imprinting, and I was really interested in that,” she said.

White started as a masters student, and then transferred to the PhD program in April 2013. She is currently at the four-year mark, and hopes to finish before she hits year five.

Throughout her PhD, she has been focused on two projects.

The first, which is currently wrapping up, showed that assisted reproductive technologies, specifically using hormones or superovulation, affects genomic imprinting in very early preimplantation development. White’s focus was looking at how the hormones affect the mitochondria in the early embryo, and how that relates to the effect of superovulation on imprinting.

The second project, which is also currently wrapping up now, is one that excites White much more.

“We were able to get 50 human embryos from the fertility clinic at Victoria Hospital, and looked at whether or not embryos in humans that were generated from all of these different types of technologies like superovulation, culturing in a dish and freezing, had the same affect we found in the mouse models,” White explained. “We just finished that project, and it’s very exciting because we’ve actually shown there is a similar effect.”

White explained that assisted reproductive technologies increase genomic imprinting disorders between four and 16 times. She isn’t trying to advocate against using these technologies through her research, she just wants to figure out the safest way to use them.

White’s ultimate career goal is to actually work full-time in Victoria Hospital’s fertility clinic – a familiar environment which she already loves.