Tête-à-tête with Rod Mitchell

We bring you the opportunity to get to know another invited speaker to the upcoming 14th NYRA Meeting in Norwich (September 19th-21st) through this ‘tête-à-tête’.

Rod Mitchel is a Professor of Developmental Endocrinology at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh. Additionally, he is also a Consultant Paediatric Endocrinologist at The Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh. Rod is a clinical and research lead for fertility preservation in prepubertal boys with cancer. This programme involves the storage of testicular tissue from young boys prior to their treatment. His work combines the clinical service for gonadal tissue cryopreservation with research aimed at developing clinical strategies to protect or restore fertility in patients receiving sterilising therapies. His research interests are focused on the role of the stem cell niche on germ cell development in the human fetal and prepubertal testis. His research group uses in-vitro and transplantation approaches to model human testicular development in order to determine the effects of environmental chemicals and pharmaceuticals on germ cells and to develop strategies to protect the testis from such damage.

When and why did you decide to work in the field of reproductive biology?

I was training as a Paediatric Endocrinologist and I undertook a PhD with Professor Richard Sharpe in Edinburgh. The project was on testicular development, and I became fascinated by this. Following this, I developed an interest in the impact of environmental exposures and pharmaceuticals on male reproductive development and function. This has evolved into an interest in fertility preservation in young boys with cancer, which I have developed as my major clinical research interest.

Fertility preservation in prepubertal boys with cancer is making great progress in recent years. Based on your experience as PI of a leading research group in the field, how do you envision the evolution of fertility preservation strategies in 10-15 years’ time? And what would be the “hot topic” or “unsolved puzzle” to boost research in this field?

I anticipate great progress and major breakthroughs in this field over the next 10-15 years. I expect that the first transplantations of cryopreserved testicular tissue will be performed in the next 1-2 years and the successful generation of sperm in these transplants would be a major advance and is the current ‘hot topic’ in the field. The major ‘unsolved puzzle’ is how we generate sperm from spermatogonial stem cells ex-vivo, as an alternative to tissue transplant. Animal studies suggest this is possible, but we await a robust and efficient model for generating sperm from human prepubertal testicular tissues.

Can you name the greatest success(es) in your career?

Establishing the first UK clinical research programme for fertility preservation in young boys with cancer was important to me as it offers hope for future fertility for these patients when previously we were not able to offer them anything. However, this will count for nothing if we cannot use this tissue to restore fertility in patients. This is why I am delighted to have recently established the ORCID-NET consortium with the goal of pushing forward strategies to provide clinical options to restore fertility in our young male patients.

Can you name a moment of failure (and which lesson did you learn with it)?

I could name many ‘failures’. The grant that isn’t funded, the paper that was rejected, the experiment that went wrong etc. However, these are not truly ‘failures’, but opportunities to learn. These experiences can be used to alter the grant, improve the manuscript or refine the experiment and I would say I have experienced this on many occasions.

Which advice would you give to young researchers?

Believe in what you are doing. Learn from things that don’t work out. Keep going and enjoy the journey 🙂

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