Qualifications: B.Rur.Sc. (Hons), M.Sc.Agr, D.Sc.Agr.(Gott), FSRB
Professor Robert Gilchrist is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research in the School of Women's & Children's Health. He is a translational research scientist, specialising in oocyte and reproductive biology and is an international leader in oocyte-somatic cell communication, with prominent clinical and commercial activities.
- Background: Dr Gilchrist completed his D.Sc.Agr. (Magna cum laude) in 1996 on oocyte maturation at the University of Göttingen in Germany, and then returned to Australia to take up a post-doctoral position at the University of Adelaide. In 2014 he was recruited to UNSW through the Vice Chancellor’s Strategic Priority Fund (SPF01) and is currently the Director of the Oocyte Biology Research Unit.
- Discovery Research: Prof Gilchrist’s research underpins a new paradigm in ovarian biology: the oocyte is not passive, but instead actively regulates the differentiation of its neighbouring somatic cells through the secretion of paracrine growth factors; GDF9 and BMP15. These growth factors are unusual within the TGFb superfamily and Dr Gilchrist has pioneered the cell biology of this paracrine signalling axis. This axis impacts on oocyte developmental competence and later embryo/fetal growth, ovarian disease and fertility. His second major area of discovery research relates to somatic (cumulus) cell control of oocyte function. This encompasses understanding cumulus cell-oocyte gap junctional communication and somatic cell control of oocyte function through the exchange of small regulatory molecules such as cAMP. This profoundly impacts oocyte meiosis and subsequent embryo developmental potential.
- Translational Research: Dr Gilchrist is passionate about translating his research into clinical practice and industry. He is recognised internationally for novel approaches to the treatment of infertility, particularly in the area of oocyte in vitro maturation (IVM), which is an approach that reduces/eliminates drugs from IVF. Prof Gilchrist has generated considerable know-how and intellectual property; notably he is a lead inventor on a family of patents that have been awarded or are in final examination phase in 23 countries, and which have been licensed to Cook Medical, an international manufacturer of products for human assisted reproduction. One of these inventions is undergoing submission to the FDA in August 2014 and other patented technologies are in current international pre-clinical trials which he leads scientifically. In 2009 he co-established a business unit: Prof Gilchrist was the Co-Director of IVF Vet Solutions, a University of Adelaide business unit servicing the human and animal assisted reproductive technology sectors. He was also contracted by the NZ Ministry of Health to report on “The Safety & Efficacy of IVM”.
- Publications: Prof Gilchrist currently has 113 peer-reviewed publications, including 21 invited reviews/chapters, plus 1 government commissioned report and 151 abstracts. He currently has an H-index of 39 [Scopus] or 46 [Google Scholar] with >5,200 [Scopus] or >7,700 [Google Scholar] total citations. He has a Field weighted citation impact (FWCI) of 2.35 (SciVal). He publishes in the top-ranking journals in the disciplines of Reproductive Biology and Reproductive Medicine; Human Reproduction Update (3 reviews), Biology of Reproduction (20 papers), Human Reproduction (8 papers), as well as in cross-discipline journals such as in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (1 paper), Endocrinology group (9 papers), Journal of Cell Science (3 papers) and Developmental Biology (4 papers), Journal of Biological Chemistry (1 paper).
- International & National Profile: Dr Gilchrist is a prominent international and national speaker having received 60 invitations to give plenary/symposia/keynote presentations; at 21 national and 39 international conferences. In addition he has given 22 conference oral presentations (11 overseas, 11 Australia) and 17 guest lectures at institutes (10 overseas, 7 Australia). In 2006 he won the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology’s Established Scientist Award and in 2009 the Award for Excellence in Reproductive Biology from the Society for Reproductive Biology. In 2013 he was made a Fellow of the Society for Reproductive Biology.
- Funding: Prof Gilchrist has a strong track record of category 1 competitive grant funding: $4.6 million as CIA, plus commercial funding worth $1.4 million as CIA/B. These include: five NHMRC Project Grants as CIA, two NHMRC Development Project Grants as CIA, six Project Grants as Co-CI, an investigator on two NHMRC Program Grants and a NIH Grant, and an ARC Linkage Grant as CIA. As an early career researcher, Prof Gilchrist was awarded the University of Adelaide’s FTT Fricker Medical Research Associateship and then a NHMRC Career Development Award (RD Wright Fellowship). Current grants:
- NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship APP1023210; RB Gilchrist. Oocyte biology informing new clinical practice. 2012-16.
- NHMRC Project Grant GNT1062762; RB Gilchrist, J Smitz, JG Thompson, DG Mottershead. EGF peptide signalling improves oocyte maturation and quality. 2014-16.
- NHMRC Development Grant GNT1076004; RB Gilchrist, J Smitz, JG Thompson, DG Mottershead. Integration of IVM technologies for hormone-free infertility treatment. 2014-16.
- NHMRC Project Grant APP1024358; C Harrison, D Robertson, KP McNatty, RB Gilchrist. Activation of GDF9 regulates human folliculogenesis. 2012-14.
- NHMRC Project Grant GNT1067079; DL Russell, RB Gilchrist, Robker R. Manipulating ovarian follicle-oocyte communication to control reproductive outcomes. 2014-16
- NHMRC Project Grant APP1078134; H Homer, RB Gilchrist, J Carroll, WL Ledger. A BubR1-centred network for non-invasively measuring human oocyte quality. 2015-2017
- Training: Over his career he has supervised; 14 research Honours students, 16 PhD/Masters students to completion, and 15 early/senior research fellows. In 2012 he was awarded the School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health’s (University of Adelaide) Excellence in Post-Graduate Supervision (HDR/Honours) Award.
- Professional Contributions: Prof Gilchrist currently sits on the NHMRC Career Development Fellowship Peer Review Panel. He was on the Scientific Advisory Board (2004-10) of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development, the Repromed Scientific Advisory Board (2007-12), the Scientific Advisory Board for Fertility SA (2012-13), the executive of the Australian Centre for Perinatal Science (2014-15), and is currently on the Scientific Advisory Board for IVF Australia (2015-curr). Prof Gilchrist was an Associate Editor of Molecular Human Reproduction in 2012. He is a past Council member and Secretary of the Society for Reproductive Biology, and was Chair of the society’s Local Organising Committee for the annual national scientific conference (2009).
- Student and Visiting Scientist Mentoring: Prof Gilchrist and his team of scientists welcome Honours, ILP, PhD and overseas Visiting Scholars and will supervise projects in the following areas:
- Oocyte-Cumulus Cell Interactions
A principal interest is understanding the dynamic cellular interactions between the oocyte and its neighbouring somatic cells the cumulus cells, and the significance of this interaction on the quality of the oocyte and resultant embryo. His research has contributed significantly to the concept that the oocyte actively regulates the differentiation and function of cumulus cells through the secretion of soluble paracrine factors. Conversely, cumulus cells nurture the growth and maturation of the oocyte by various means including via gap-junctions. He is interested in mechanisms regulating oocyte-cumulus cell gap-junctional communication.
- Oocyte GDF9 and BMP15 Paracrine Signalling
Dr Gilchrist’s group investigates the molecular nature of the key oocyte paracrine signalling molecules GDF9 and BMP15. This includes; production of novel forms of recombinant GDF9/BMP15, cellular mechanism regulating oocyte secretion of these growth factors, and intracellular consequences in cumulus cells (SMAD and MAPK signalling).
- Regulation of Oocyte Meiosis
His group is actively investigating the cellular mechanisms regulating oocyte meiotic arrest and resumption. This work focuses on the roles of cAMP and phosphodiesterases in the oocyte and cumulus cells and their regulation of oocyte maturation, particularly in an in vitro maturation (IVM) context.
- Oocyte In Vitro Maturation (IVM) Systems for Novel Reproductive Technologies
Dr Gilchrist is particularly active in the application of knowledge of cumulus-oocyte biology in the development of new oocyte IVM systems. The objective of this applied research program is to improve the developmental potential of IVM oocytes to provide new opportunities in human infertility treatment and in domestic animal advanced artificial breeding programs. New IVM systems in development include the use of exogenous GDF9/BMP15 during IVM and the on-going refinement of a new approach to IVM called SPOM (Simulated Physiological Oocyte Maturation). Human and veterinary pre-clinical trials are currently being conducted with end-user partners.