Sperm structure and function, egg activation, male factor infertility
Dr Kevin Coward's research themes include:
molecular mechanisms of egg activation at fertilization.
structure, function and potential role of the oocyte activation factor phosholipase C zeta in male factor infertility.
the effect of sperm DNA fragmentation and related changes in protein biochemistry upon male infertility.
nanoparticle mediated delivery of molecular agents to gametes and embryos.
deleterious effects of clinical procedures upon sperm biology and function.
Coward Group, May 2012.
From left: Caroline Day, Suseela Yelumalai, Akanksha Mishra, Kevin Coward, Marisa Schubert, Natalia Barkalina, Su Lin Oo, Maria-Ioanna Papadopoulou, Walaa Ramadan, Celine Jones, Junaid Kashir.
Dr Coward graduated from the University of Stirling, Scotland with a Bachelors degree in Biological Science and a PhD in Reproductive Physiology and Endocrinology. Since leaving Scotland in 1994, his research has predominantly involved pharmacological, physiological and molecular aspects of reproductive science involving both the male and female gonad/gamete and utilizing a variety of biochemical and molecular approaches. He has held post-doctoral positions at Brunel University, Queen Mary University London, Imperial College London and University College London. In 2002, he moved to the University Department of Pharmacology in Oxford to work on a research project investigating egg activation at fertilization. In 2008, he joined the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology as the Director of the Department’s new MSc course in clinical embryology and as a Principal Investigator.
Historically, his research concerned the molecular mechanisms of egg activation at fertilization, with special emphasis on how such mechanisms may impart effect upon male fertility. Activation of the egg at fertilization is a fundamental developmental event and in mammals is associated with a rise in intracellular egg calcium that manifests as a series of characteristic oscillations. Current research strongly suggests that the protein responsible is a sperm-specific phospholipase C with distinctive properties, PLCζ. Dr Coward was centrally involved in the identification of an avian orthologue of PLCζ, suggesting that PLCζ may play a universal role in vertebrate egg activation. He also played a key role in elucidating the cellular localization of PLCζ in spermatozoa from a range of species, which suggested that PLCζ may be involved in additional mechanisms other than egg activation. In 2011, he was involved in a study describing the identification of an ovarian PLCζ isoform in the pufferfish.
Dr Coward's Group are currently investigating how PLCζ might be related to certain types of male infertility and were centrally involved in the first report of an infertile human patient expressing mutated isoforms of PLCζ. Other projects seek to develop new methodologies to deliver engineered protein constructs, or other molecular agents, into mammalian gametes or embryos. Such methods could provide a useful tool for studying the role of sperm-specific proteins during fertilization, egg activation and early embryogenesis and may provide an effective means of delivering targeted clinical agents. Additional projects concern the potential adverse effects of clinical procedures upon sperm protein structure and function, and how sperm DNA fragmentation and related changes in protein biochemistry may impact upon infertility and early embryogenesis.
Dr Coward is a member of the British Fertility Society, the Society for Reproduction and Fertility, the British Andrology Society, and the Society of Biology. He has served on the Animal Biology Committee for the Society for Experimental Biology (2001 - 2006) and the Editorial Board of the Society of Biology’s peer-reviewed journal ‘Biologist’ (2005 – 2008). He has acted as Senior Editor for four academic book volumes and is a Teaching Skills Tutor and Mentor for the University of Oxford Medical Science Division's 'Preparing for Academic Practice' skills programme. He also serves on the Editorial Board of the new academic journal 'Human Genetics and Embryology'.
Prizes awarded to past and present members of the Coward group
2005. British Andrology Society Prize. Dr Kevin Coward (jointly with Dr John Parrington) for work describing the use of in vivo gene transfer procedures for studying spermatogenesis. Joint Conference of the UK Fertility Societies, Fertility 2005, University of Warwick, U.K.
2009. Best Oral Presentation in Session. Mr Junaid Kashir (D.Phil Student). International Network of Young Researchers in Male Fertility. Munster, Germany.
2011. Best Scientific Oral Presentation. Mr Junaid Kashir (D.Phil Student). Joint Conference of the UK Fertility Societies, Fertility 2011, Dublin, U.K.
2011. Winner - Society for Reproduction and Fertility (SRF) Prize Essay. Miss Claire Durrans (Biochemistry Project Student). For an essay describing the Nobel Prize winning work of Professor Sir Robert Edwards.
2012. University of Oxford Major Educator Teaching Excellence award (Dr. Kevin Coward, Mrs. Celine Jones, and Dr. Junaid Kashir)