Karen Sermon Team

Research at the interface between genetics and reproduction

After her medical degree at the VUB, Karen Sermon started her scientific career first as a master, then as a PhD student with Inge Liebaers and Andre Van Steirteghem. Her PhD presented the development of a preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for Tay-Sachs disease. In the years following her PhD degree, she was instrumental in developing PGD for monogenic diseases at the Centres for Medical Genetics and Reproductive Medicine, leading to nearly 60 highly cited papers on the subject. The PGD clinic today at the UZ Brussel is one of the largest in the world.

During that period, she supervised several Masters and one PhD theses (Claudia Spits in 2006) that were related to PGD. Very recently, Veerle Goossens, science officer at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology , defended her PhD thesis on PGD that started in this period.

From 2002 onwards, she developed a new avenue of research at REGE: since numerous good-quality preimplantation embryos that carried a monogenic disease were left after PGD, Andre Van Steirteghem came up with the idea to make human embryonic stem cell lines of them and to use them as model for monogenic diseases. Since then, the stem cell laboratory of REGE has been thriving, as witnessed by the list of PhDs acquired with Karen Sermon as (co-)promotor: Nele De Temmerman (2009), Urielle Ullmann (2009), Ileana Mateizel (2010), Lindsey Van Haute (2013) and Kurt Jacobs (2015).

After her PhD in 2006, Claudia Spits joined the stem cell team and since then has developed her own avenue of research on genetic instability in human pluripotent cells which has offered now already a score of PhD students the opportunity to receive their degree. In 2010 Mieke Geens defended her PhD thesis that partly dealt with the differentiation of hESC into male gametes, after which she too joined the stem cell team as a postdoc. Her main interests are differences in differentiation potential of human pluripotent stem cells. The main focus of research for Karen Sermon has remained human pluripotent stem cells - both induced pluripotent stem cells and human embryonic stem cells - as a model for monogenic diseases, mainly for myotonic dystrophy type I.

Meanwhile, the interest of the Sermon lab in the genetics of human preimplantation embryos has not waned and has remained a common project for Karen Sermon and Claudia Spits. We were the first to look at the chromosomal content of every single blastomere in embryos of three and four days old using microarrays, and have recently demonstrated by functional testing that the spindle attachment checkpoint, an important checkpoint to assure euploidy, is functional in the early human embryo but is uncoupled from apoptosis. This means that even grossly aneuploid blastomeres will not go into apoptosis. This work has led to the PhD of Afroditi Mertzanidou (2015).

Karen Sermon has also been very active in the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, as a coordinator for the special interest groups "reproduction and genetics", and later "stem cells". She was also one of the founders of the ESHRE PGD Consortium which still today is an important source of information on the daily practice of PGD, and an influential voice in policy making at different levels.

All the publications of Karen Sermon can be found here, and all her supervised masters and PhDs can be found here. This includes PhD theses outside REGE where she was a jury member.

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Department of Embryology and Genetics • ©2015 • http://emge.vub.ac.be
VUB • Faculty of Medicine & Pharmacy • Laarbeeklaan 103 • B-1090 Brussel, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)2 477 46 35 • secremge@vub.ac.be
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