History

The group involved with reproductive biology at the University of Saskatchewan has been active for more than 35 years through joint research and teaching, seminars, the Reproductive Biology Research Unit (RBRU), the Growth and Reproductive Immunology Program, the Canada West Society for Reproductive Biology, and more recently, the Reproductive Science and Medicine Program.

During this period, faculty have come and gone, but reproductive biology has remained a focus and academically strong. Most faculty have been in the Colleges of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, but teaching, research and graduate student training has crossed many traditional disciplinary, departmental and college lines to involve computer scientists, engineers, animal scientists, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and those in the pharmaceutical industry.

Collaborations have been spontaneous and driven by the interests of the faculty rather than by external structure or support.

Reproductive health: 1950s to 1980

Interests in animal reproduction at the University of Saskatchewan began in the late 1950s when Dr. Bill Howell (Animal and Poultry Science) introduced artificial insemination in cattle to Saskatchewan producers.

This was followed by the appointment of Dr. Bill Cates in the Department of Clinical Studies at the new Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in 1965. Dr. Cates had a long career at the WCVM focusing on reproductive management in cattle, and in particular, reproductive management and breeding soundness evaluation in beef bulls.

With an interest in reproductive endocrinology, Dr. Jack Manns (1967, Veterinary Physiology) was one of the early pioneers and a driving force behind early cross-campus collaborations that continue to this day. Dr. Manns later became the University’s first Vice President of Research.

In 1977, Dr. Norman Rawlings joined Dr. Manns in Veterinary Physiology with a focus on the endocrinology of puberty using a sheep model; he later became Associate Dean of Research at the WCVM.

Dr. Bill Adams, who had recently discovered the corticosteroid trigger for parturition in cattle and sheep, joined the WCVM in 1970 as Head of the Department of Clinical Studies and established a line of distinguished theriogenologists at the WCVM.

With an interest in equine reproduction, Dr. Frank Bristol (1973) began studies on the characteristics and effects of equine chorionic gonadotropin and conjugated estrogens from pregnant mare urine.

In 1977, Dr. Reuben Mapletoft joined the department as Director of Clinical Research, and established himself early on as one of the foremost authorities on bovine embryo transfer and cryopreservation. Dr. Mapletoft established the Reproduction Research Trust (RRT) in 1980 which provided reproductive services, including the first “on farm” embryo transfer and embryo freezing services for breeders across Western Canada. Income from the RRT was used to support graduate student training and research; between 1980 and 1984, the RRT generated more than $500,000 for these programs.

Dr. Terry Carruthers (Herd Medicine and Theriogenology) was appointed within the RRT at that time as a Research Scientist. Dr. Albert Barth (1979) advanced the work of Dr. Cates with the establishment of the Diagnostic Spermatology Laboratory at WCVM in 1980 and more recently, the standards for the evaluation of frozen semen for the Society for Theriogenology and breeding soundness evaluations for the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners. 

Reproductive health: 1980 to the present

The additions of Drs. Peter Flood (1977, Veterinary Anatomy) and Bruce Murphy (1973, Department of Biology) provided a true comparative aspect to the research activities of the group with interest in wild ungulates and induced ovulators, like mink.

Through collaborative efforts between Drs. Murphy and Mapletoft, early formulations of a GnRH vaccine were developed. Dr. Jack Manns, and later Dr. Murray Jelinski (Large Animal Clinical Sciences), took this to a commercial product.

However, it was not until Dr. Murphy joined the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1986 and formed the Reproductive Biology Research Unit (RBRU) that true cross-campus collaboration occurred. Subsequent appointments within the university have included Drs. Roger Pierson (Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1989) and Gregg Adams (Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, 1991) who, in 2000, formalized the cross-campus group and co-directed what became known as the Reproductive Science and Medicine (RSM) group for the next 14 years.

Others appointed around that time included Drs. Claire Card (Large Animal Clinical Sciences) and Sheila Schmutz and Fiona Buchanan (Animal and Poultry Science). More recent additions included Drs. Jaswant Singh, Ali Honormarooz and Daniel MacPhee (Veterinary Biomedical Sciences), Colin Palmer and Stephen Manning (Large Animal Clinical Sciences) and Mary Buhr and Murray Pettit (Animal and Poultry Science).

In 2005, through an agreement between the University of Saskatchewan and AAFC, the Canadian Animal Genetic Resources Program was established. With this program came three scientist who became affiliated with departments within the university: Dr. Yves Plante (Animal and Poultry Science) and Drs. Mohammed Anzar and Carl Lessard (Veterinary Biomedical Sciences).

In 2014, the name the Reproductive Science and Medicine (RSM) group was changed to the One Reproductive Health (ORH) group to better reflect the interests and the goals of this ever-evolving group.

Reproductive Pioneers

Members of the One Reproductive Health Group have been pioneers of several reproductive technologies:

  • in vivo production and transfer of embryos
  • in vitro production of embryos and the use of in vitro technique to evaluate sperm function
  • elective induction of parturition
  • establishment of strict morphological criteria for assessment of spermatozoa
  • cryopreservation of semen, oocytes and embryos
  • detailed analysis of placental function
  • assessment of oocyte competence
  • comparative characterization of ovarian dynamics
  • ovarian synchronization
  • computer-assisted imaging of reproductive events

Many of these techniques are now in widespread clinical and experimental use throughout the world.

Comparative Reproductive Biology

Members within the group have had a long-standing interest in comparative reproductive biology, particularly in wild species and in humans. In the 1980s, Drs. Jerry Haigh and Gordon Glover characterized reproductive function in male and female wapiti respectively, and Dr. Haigh cryopreserved wapiti semen for export to New Zealand.

Dr. Peter Flood had a long-term study of behaviour and reproductive function in muskoxen captured from the Arctic. Drs. Gregg Adams and Murray Woodbury (Large Animal Clinical Sciences) established the Native Hoofstock Centre in 2006 – a unique facility designed for studies in white-tailed deer, wapiti and bison.

Most recently, the centre has been the focal point of the Wood Bison Recovery Project for research and development of assisted reproductive techniques for the salvage of wood bison in Wood Buffalo National Park.

Reproductive Function in Humans 

Members of the One Reproductive Health Group have also actively applied research techniques and results to the study of reproductive function in humans. Noteworthy among these achievements have been establishment of the bovine model for the study of ovarian function in women, and the publication on ovarian follicular waves in women by Drs. Baerwald, Adams and Pierson.

Other examples include the establishment of a bovine model for the study of transition to reproductive senescence (menopause) in women by Dr. Jaswant Singh, and collaborative efforts between Drs. Pierson, Mapletoft and Barth on the use of a bovine IVF model to study male factor infertility in humans.

More recent examples include the studies of Drs. Ali Honaramooz and Daniel MacPhee. Dr. MacPhee’s research has demonstrated the importance of signalling networks on human placental development. Recent findings on small stress proteins in uterine myometrium have inspired investigation of these molecules in the human myometrium by other laboratories and a proposal that small stress proteins should now be considered viable targets for future tocolytic design in the myometrium during pregnancy.

Dr. Ali Honaramooz and colleagues were first to work on germ cell (spermatogonial) transplantation in farm animals, which can be used as an alternative approach for the generation of transgenic farm animals. Dr. Honaramooz and colleagues have also established the technique for testis tissue xenografting, allowing for the first time to produce sperm from different donor species (e.g., newborn domestic and wild animals) in a recipient mouse. Testis tissue xenografting has opened a new avenue of research in reproductive biology as a novel tool for the study and manipulation of spermatogenesis in different species including conservation of valuable immature individuals (e.g., endangered species and prized farm animals).

Recognition

The core members of the One Reproductive Health Group are well recognized in their respective areas. All members of the group have received national and international honours for their work. Three members of the group have received the University of Saskatchewan Distinguished Researcher Award.

We measure our success by:

  • publication of scientific manuscripts, books and book chapters, scientific abstracts
  • constant invitations to present the results of our research nationally and internationally
  • copyrights and patents
  • the training of graduate students and clinical residents

Clear evidence of international impact of the work has been demonstrated by studies challenging the traditional view of ovarian function during the human menstrual cycle and developmental work in bringing the new hormonal contraceptive patch to market in the United States, Europe and Canada.

Our faculty have been actively involved in the training of the next generation of scientists; more than 100 graduate students have received their post-graduate education under our supervision. Each of the faculty is also well established in the undergraduate or professional college teaching programs of the University of Saskatchewan.