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MSc in Reproductive & Biology

London, UK
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MSc in Reproductive & Biology

The fascination and importance of reproduction and embryonic development is unparalleled. Tremendous advances have been made in our understanding of oocyte fertilisation, the development of pluripotent embryonic stem cells into the myriad of specialised cells and tissues that form a fetus, and the processes of pregnancy and parturition, but there is much to learn. The application of cellular and molecular biology together with genetics provide the keys to the study of reproduction, but many of the problems associated with fertilisation, fetal growth and development, pregnancy loss and maternal complications are still poorly understood. There is also good evidence that adult disease may have its origins during fetal development but we have little molecular insight into this fetal programming. Recently there has been an explosion in research into stem cell biology since this will not only provide insights into cellular differentiation, but may also lead to important therapeutic opportunities.

This MSc will focus on the cellular and molecular basis for human reproduction and embryonic development, as well as associated clinical problems. The course is based in the Institute of Reproductive & Developmental Biology. The teachers conducting the course are internationally recognised for their contribution to reproductive science and developmental biology. We regard it as important that there should be maximum opportunity for close and regular contact between these experts and the students. This course is designed to fill a growing demand for individuals who are specialists, either scientifically or clinically, in the field of Reproductive & Developmental Biology.

Evolution of the Course.
For more than 10 years we have run a highly successful MSc course in Human Reproductive Biology. We have thoroughly reviewed our teaching and overall targets for this MSc, and concluded that the advancement of knowledge in the last 10 years means that modification of the course is needed. In particular the teaching needs to reflect advances in our understanding of basic science in reproduction and development, without losing comprehension of the clinical ? scientific interface.

A new module (Advanced Topics) to include stem cells, therapeutic cloning and animal models has been added to the programme. We have also introduced choices into the teaching pattern of the course, so that students can select short series of lectures that provide either increased scientific detail, or that concentrate more on the clinical-scientific interface.
The intention is that the former will provide a rigorous training for students interested in a career in research (e.g a PhD), whereas the latter will be appropriate for students interested in assisted reproduction from a clinical or laboratory perspective. More detail on options is provided below under ?Course Structure?.
The MSc awarded will be titled ?Reproductive & Developmental Biology? regardless of which options are taken.

Aims & Objectives of the Course
The aim of this MSc is to provide an opportunity for scientists and clinicians to specialise in human reproductive & developmental biology, considering both the basic science and clinical aspects of the subject.
Within this broad remit, opportunity will be provided for students to choose alternative taught options for the reasons outlined above. This will provide the best possible input for students independent of whether their backgrounds are clinical or scientific, or their overall career aims.

During the initial six month taught course, the student will gain a good understanding of normal mechanisms of reproduction & development: anatomy of the reproductive tract, gametogenesis, embryonic development, implantation and early pregnancy, stem cell biology, genetics, hormonal control of reproduction and immunology. As part of this programme, infertility, complications of pregnancy and inherited genetic defects will be covered in detail. The student will also learn about the molecular and biochemical techniques currently used to elucidate the normal and abnormal developmental and pathological events involved, particularly including the insights that stem cell biology and animal models can provide, and also consider the impact that novel technologies such as genetic selection of embryos, stem cell biology and therapeutic cloning may have. Practical experience in major laboratory techniques, including hormone assays, biochemical assays, assessment of sperm and the application of molecular biology to reproductive medicine will be provided. They will also have an opportunity to observe at first hand a leading IVF unit.

The 6-month research project will provide the student with a thorough training in laboratory research, including the development of a good research project, experimental design, and trouble shooting for experimental problems. Transferable skills including data handling, analysis and interpretation, and presentation of work orally, and for publication in the form of a dissertation, will also be learnt. For the ambitious student, it may be possible to prepare a paper suitable for publication.

About the Institute
The Institute of Reproductive & Developmental Biology is a leading research Institute for all aspects of human reproductive biology. It houses 14 research groups, which each have an international reputation in their fields of expertise, and students will have the opportunity to benefit from all of them during the course. A comprehensive description of the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology and its research activities can be found at:

Course Structure
The course is divided into two six-month components. During October to March students attend taught modules in (1) Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology of the Reproductive Tract; (2) Reproductive Endocrinology; (3) Gametogenesis and Preimplantation Development; (4) Pregnancy and fetal development; (5) Molecular mechanisms in fetal development; (6a) Advanced Topics or (6b) Assisted Reproduction Technologies. Formal examination of the taught element occurs in March upon completion of the six modules. In parallel with the teaching programme, students are required to complete four essays of approximately five thousand words, and one oral presentation, on topics that complement the subject matter of taught modules.

In modules 2 and 4, the final week will offer opportunity to study either (a) a more advanced science programme, or (b) a programme that emphasises the clinical-scientific interface. Options 6a and 6b will be separate modules with their own teaching programme. Each choice is independent, so students can select their own combination of options to suit their personal interests and learning objectives.

Students are expected to be well organised and to be prepared to undertake private study (approximately 20 - 25 hours per week) in addition to formal teaching sessions, and to plan this study around the timetable. Students are encouraged to read widely, using textbooks, and, importantly, journals (for reviews and original articles). Students will be sent a list of suggested reading prior to the start of term, and most lectures will be accompanied by handouts and reading lists. The Hammersmith Campus Wellcome Library stocks a wide range of books and journals. Tuition in the correct use of facilities will be given by library staff, and students are expected to be able to perform literature searches.

Allocation of projects and supervisors takes into account wherever possible the academic interests and career aspirations of the individual student. Research projects are designed to take full advantage of local interests and expertise, thus giving students experience of internationally competitive research.

The final six months of the course, from April to September inclusive, is devoted to the laboratory-based research project and completion of a dissertation based on this work. All the projects provide training in contemporary cellular and molecular techniques applied to reproductive and developmental biology, independent of the group in which the project in carried out, and will be in Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, or Cell signalling The research projects are supervised by staff of the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology and are within their specialist research areas. These include: Ovarian Physiology, Gametogenesis and Embryogenesis (Kate Hardy, Steve Franks, Robert Winston); Maternal & Placental Pathophysiology (Catherine Williamson, Nick Fisk, Mark Sullivan); Parturition (Phil Bennett, Mark Sullivan); Fetal and Neonatal Stress (Vivette Glover); Neural Development and Apoptosis (Huseyin Mehmet); Cell Signalling and Gene Expression in Reproduction and Development (Malcolm Parker, Ilpo Huhtaniemi, Jan Brosens, Nick Dibb).

Method of delivery
The lectures will be given by staff of the Institute of Reproductive & Developmental Biology, and by specialists from other Imperial College London departments and London institutions. Lectures will be accompanied by laboratory-based practical classes. Students will also be expected to attend regular departmental seminars and lectures by invited distinguished scientists. Tutorials will be used to provide a forum for more detailed discussion of topics. As training in presentation techniques, students will be required to make short presentations on papers or relevant topics at regular intervals. During the six month research project, students will receive tuition and close supervision from their project supervisor and other laboratory staff.

During the six-month taught course, students will be expected to complete four essays and one oral presentation, the marks of which contribute 25% to the student?s final result. In March, after the end of the taught course, the student will undertake two three-hour written examinations and one four-hour data handling/practical examination, which together contribute 25% to the final result. A choice of questions will be set to reflect the different teaching options in modules 2-4 & 6.

At the end of August, upon completion of the research project, the student will submit a dissertation, and will be orally examined on both the taught work and the project. The dissertation contributes 40% of the final mark, and the oral examination (viva) 10%. For each component of the course, the pass mark is 50% and a grade of Distinction is awarded for a mark of 70% or greater.
Career Prospects
For the scientist, the MSc in Reproductive & Developmental Biology provides firstly a valuable qualification and sound training for a further career in scientific research. Some will go on to register for a PhD, or become Research Assistants, in one of the many university departments nationally which carry out research in reproduction and developmental biology. The more scientific taught options will be of particular benefit to such students. About 30% of past students have followed this route. On average 1-2 students per year join research groups in the IRDB, usually to do a PhD.
Other scientists will gain from this course because it provides an unrivalled background for further training as an embryologist or andrologist in one of the increasing number of assisted reproduction and IVF units world-wide. About 25% of past students have joined IVF units.

Clinicians with an interest in all aspects of Reproduction and Development gain greatly from this course because it provides the background knowledge usually absent in most specialist training programmes and because it uniquely gives training in laboratory-based research, perhaps suitable for the start of an MD project.

It must be emphasised that this course does not provide formal training in the clinical and laboratory techniques used in assisted reproduction. While a proportion of the lecture course is devoted to this area, and there are opportunities to observe work in the IVF clinic and laboratories, the main purpose is to offer a much broader education in human reproduction and development generally.

Imperial College London has a number of 4 year PhD programmes in a 1 + 3 format, which resemble that national ?New Route? PhD programmes. A research-rich Masters in year 1 provides a broad academic training and initial research experience before selection of the long PhD project (which is carried out in years 2-4 of the programme).
Further information can be obtained from:,325009&_dad=portallive&_schema=PORTALLIVE). The MSc in Reproductive & Developmental Biology provides a Year 1 entry point to a 4 year programme of research training in Reproductive and Developmental Biology within the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology.

For further details of the MSc course, or the PhD programme in Reproductive and Developmental Biology, please email Dr. Mark Sullivan (

Health Requirement

Accepted students will require vaccinations to protect against infection and to comply with the Control of Infection policies of the hospital sites where they will be studying. It is vital that students have health clearance as there will be patient contact and work with clinical specimens throughout the course. Students will be required to bring copies of any test results to check vaccination response upon arrival to College. Further details and a questionnaire will be sent to candidates with the offer of admission.
Entry Qualifications
Applicants are expected to have a first degree in a biomedical science, veterinary science or medicine, with a minimum of second class honours (or equivalent if undertaken overseas). All suitably qualified UK-based applicants will be offered an interview. All applicants should be aware that this course is becoming more popular, and it may not be possible to offer places to all eligible applicants. For the same reason, applicants will be asked to confirm their place fully within a fixed timescale, and should note that failure to do so may result in the place being offered to another candidate.
Proficiency in English
Please see separate documentation enclosed with application packs. Candidates will be notified if an English language test is required and must comply if this is indicated.
Enquiries and Applications
Please note that at whichever site your course is delivered, your application will be handled by the Postgraduate Medical Admissions team at the South Kensington campus. Please return your application as follows:

Imperial College London
Registry: Admissions Team B
South Kensington Campus
Level 3, Sherfield Building

Tel +44 (0)207 594 8093
Fax +44 (0)207 594 8004

Completed application forms should be accompanied by a covering letter explaining the reasons for applying for this course. Please note that while applications can be considered after receipt of one recent reference, two will be required as standard for confirmation of acceptance by College. Closing date for receipt of all applications is 1st May although late applications may be considered.

Applicants are expected to have a first degree in a biomedical science, veterinary science or medicine, with a minimum of second class honours (or equivalent if undertaken overseas). All suitably qualified UK-based applicants will be offered an interview.

Course website:

Imperial College London
Du Cane Road

Phone: +44 (0)20 7594 2133
E-mail: Contact Dr. Mark Sullivan
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