By Jonathan Riggs | Photography by Don Liebig/ASUCLA
According to the World Health Organization, around 48 million couples and 186 million individuals face infertility globally — and yet, it wasn’t until 2017 that the American Medical Association formally adopted a resolution to recognize infertility as a disease deserving of treatment.
“The decades before this impacted reproductive science research funding, diminished reproductive science-related content in higher education and created a socially unjust framework for access to infertility treatments,” says Amander Clark, an Australian-born American professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology at UCLA and president-elect of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.
To answer this vital need, the UCLA Division of Life Sciences has launched the Center for Reproductive Science, Health and Education, with Clark serving as its inaugural director. It will operate in partnership with the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Institute for Society and Genetics, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.
“It’s extremely important that a science-focused center like this be embedded in a number-one ranked research institution like UCLA, where it can reimagine how reproductive science is taught, broaden the pipeline for research training and increase the number of laboratories performing transformative research in this field,” Clark says. “And the time is now — with changing policy on account of the Supreme Court, reproductive science research and education must be injected back into the system at all levels so that future policy decisions around reproductive wellness can be driven by science.”
The center’s work will include research into the reproductive and endocrine systems, contraception and infertility, pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, as well as the social science of reproduction and reproductive interventions.
Plans are also underway for innovative outreach to high school students. This holistic approach is especially important with both global and American fertility rates declining as the age of first-time parents increases — and with interventions for infertility not covered by insurance in most U.S. states.
“Infertility affects all genders, races and ethnicities,” Clark says. “We don’t really understand why there are increasing levels of infertility today, but we should all care about this. Our fertility is what enables us to exist on the planet; if this is significantly compromised, you can imagine the consequences.”
Always determined to become a scientist, Clark discovered her direction as a child when her father was diagnosed with testicular cancer, a disease of the reproductive organs that over her lifetime has gone from being a death sentence to having an extremely high cure rate. Ensuring that the new center makes a similarly concrete difference underpins her commitment to this work.
“I’m excited to transition from basic science to figuring out how this science can directly impact the people who need it most,” she says. “This center will change the national and global conversation around these crucial topics, and I can’t imagine a better place than UCLA for us to make it happen.”