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July 17, 2018 | News

An Interview with Professor Alan Thornhill

An Interview with Professor Alan Thornhill

Tell us your background and experience before starting Igenomix

I have always been interested in Reproductive Biology and genetics, completing a degree and later a PhD in the subject, after which I worked on very sensitive tests in single cells taken from mouse and human embryos.

I’ve had quite an unusual career, which has been primarily in the field of reproductive health. I have worked in the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) industry as a clinical embryologist for 20 years, followed by a period with Illumina, the world’s leading DNA sequencing company, and am now bringing those two careers together as part of Igenomix UK.

Describe Igenomix and its impact on the wider society.

Established in 2011, Igenomix provide reproductive genetic testing services for IVF clinics in the UK and overseas. This encompasses all phases of fertility treatment, through Preconception, Preimplantation and Prenatal. By screening embryos for chromosome and single gene disorders, these tests aid parents by increasing their chances of having a healthy baby.

The UK medical testing laboratory is an affiliate of Igenomix SL, a global company with headquarters in Valencia, Spain and a growing number of affiliates worldwide from Tokyo to Los Angeles. The in-depth experience and expertise of the team make Igenomix one of the global leaders in the field. A strong commitment to R&D and an evidence-based approach, overseen by Dr. Carlos Simón, enables the team to create and develop specific tools and solutions to support professionals in the reproductive medicine field. The specialist services offered by Igenomix include Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), Non-invasive Prenatal Test) NACE, Carrier Genetic Test (CGT), Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) and Endometrial Receptive Array (ERA).

Why did you choose the Surrey Research Park?

I chose the Surrey Research Park because of its proximity to both Gatwick and Heathrow airports and its excellent facilities, including parking. With recent advances in embryo freezing, our laboratory no longer needs to perform extremely rapid testing so we don’t need to be in central London, where many of our customers are based. I moved in to the Surrey Technology Centre in March 2017 – on my own. Now, I’m joined by five colleagues and by the end of this year, we will be a team of nine, comprising scientists, customer support, finance, and sales and marketing personnel. Igenomix’ main headquarters is in Spain and at the SRP we focus on the testing and providing a great service to our clinic customers and their patients, while Valencia takes care of many of the back-office functions.

What have been the highlights and what does the future hold for Igenomix?

Igenomix was recently recommended for ISO15189 accreditation for medical laboratories, one of the most stringent levels of accreditation, and essential to serve many of our UK customers. We offer many innovative tests investigating both the embryo (the ‘seed’) and the endometrium (the ‘soil’), both of which are important to help couples achieve a healthy pregnancy. By combining tests (a concept we call ‘Synchrony’) to identify chromosome abnormalities in embryos, the leading cause of IVF failure, and the optimal window for embryo transfer Endometrial Receptivity Analysis (ERA) we have helped clinics improve IVF outcomes.

We are very excited about our latest test, EndomeTRIO. This is the culmination of many years of research and development and allows us to perform three tests in the same endometrial biopsy sample. With this new trio of actionable tests, we can identify an altered window of implantation ERA, as well as investigate the endometrial microbiome (the population of both pathogenic and healthy microbes present) to help improve reproductive outcomes.

Future tests will move towards non-invasive approaches and a continued commitment to personalised medicine. We look forward to many happy and productive times to come at the Surrey Technology Centre. We love the Surrey Technology Centre and, ironically, a mark of our success will be to move into our own, bigger unit on the Surrey Research Park.

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