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Fertility Doctor of the Month: Jonathan Tilly, Ph.D.

Jonathan Tilly, Ph.D.

February 2013

Dr. Jonathan Tilly is a scientist who, through his research, has made outstanding contributions to the field of infertility. Until recently he was the Chief, Division of Research, at Massachusetts General Hospital Vincent Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Director of the hospital’s Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology. He stepped down at the end of 2012 to focus entirely on his personal research program, trainee mentoring, and work with OvaScience, Inc., a life sciences company he co-founded. He is also a Member of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and Faculty at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute

FertilityAuthority is pleased to recognize Dr. Tilly as Doctor of the Month.

In 1995, Dr. Tilly was recruited to build the Vincent Center for Reproductive Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital. The center was to serve three purposes:

  • To be a unique fellowship training environment for the next generation of clinician scientists and clinicians.
  • Build a research program that would be recognized worldwide as a leader in women’s healthcare, encompassing reproductive endocrinology and gynecological oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, menopause and aging.
  • Unite scientists and clinicians together into an environment that would to draw on the expertise of both and provide a quicker transitional outcome for a new discovery in the lab.

“One of our goals was to look at the problem of infertility differently and try to come up with alternative ways to deal with fertility problems, whether they are due to aging, genetic predisposition, or otherwise. What that entailed was developing a research program that didn’t have boundaries or limits in terms of its science,” Tilly says. Almost 18 years after building the center, all those visions have been realized, he says.

His research during those years focused on cell death, specifically premature ovarian failure and infertility related to cancer treatment. His focused has changed, concentrating instead on cell renewal - using stem cells to defeat infertility and delay ovarian failure.

This focus is now being realized with the full-time work he’s doing with Boston-based OvaScience. He admits that this work is deemed controversial by some, but that it supports his ultimate goal – helping women achieve the birth of a healthy child.

The work that they are embarking on involves removing the mitochondria, the cell’s energy source, from egg precursor cells and injecting the mitochondria into eggs that are retrieved during an IVF cycle. Tilly explains: “What we envision is a patient with infertility coming in before she starts an IVF cycle. She has a biopsy taken of her ovary, and her egg precursor cells are purified and cryopreserved [or frozen]. She goes through the stimulation protocol. The day of egg retrieval the precursor cells are thawed, opened up, and the mitochondria are collected. When her egg is fertilized with ICSI, you put in some of her own mitochondria. If we could energetically recharge eggs, we might have a huge IVF outcome benefit.” Boston IVF is currently recruiting patients for a study using the OvaScience technology that has been licensed from Massachusetts General Hospital.

To some, this work seems to verge on science fiction. But it is this forward thinking, scientific research and discovery that just might lead to more changes and advancements in the field of infertility. It goes back to Tilly’s goal of helping all women who wish to have a baby, to have a healthy baby.

FertilityAuthority applauds Dr. Tilly’s vision. We’ll anxiously wait and see – and will report on – the outcomes of the clinical trials and his future research.

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