University of Birmingham

Enabling couples desperately hoping for a family to have children

Miscarriage occurs in one in four pregnancies, often not long after a positive pregnancy test. Mothers traditionally have considered that it must mean something is ‘wrong’ with them and all diagnostic research has focused upon testing what might be wrong with their womb.

Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, Reader and NIHR/HEE Senior Clinical Fellow in Healthcare Science, and colleagues have identified that the quality of the DNA in the sperm is actually a leading cause of miscarriage. For some IVF patients, simply changing how the sperm which fertilises the egg is selected can avert up to 40% of pregnancy losses in assisted conception.

The team’s work is now focused not just on picking better sperm for IVF and improved diagnosis of sperm DNA quality, but on addressing the problem with the sperm so that the risk of miscarriage is reduced significantly. This work is changing a paradigm in miscarriage and reproduction by placing diagnosis and treatment at the centre of future care.

A pilot clinical trial to examine the role of nutritional supplements in sperm quality and miscarriage will commence in Summer 2019. If successful, we hope to prevent the one in every 12 pregnancies that currently miscarry due to this sperm DNA factor.

Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown's clinical work involves working with the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Birmingham, Jackson’s work preserving the fertility of men injured as a result of military conflict was recognised nationally when he was appointed MBE in the Queens New Years Honours list in 2013.