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Scientific Director, Dr Debbie Blake

 
 
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The tricky thing about planning a career in technology or science, is it may not even exist when you are at school. For me this was true of IVF.

As a child I dreamed of being a Vet. I was crazy about breeding and rearing animals - chickens, fish, turtles, rabbits, sheep, horses, ostriches – you name it! It wasn’t until my first year at Massey University that I became aware of the first test-tube baby Louise Brown who was about to start school. My A-HA moment in life came when I was on a farm visit where some goat embryo transfers were being carried out. Looking down the microscope at the dish of embryos, I was absolutely captivated by their beauty and potential to create life. Fast forward thirty years and I still get that same thrill when I handle these precious bundles of cells, filled with so much hope.

From this defining moment on the farm, I decided to fast track my university days so I could pursue my new passion of becoming an Embryologist. Back then there was no formal training or course you could go on, so I just went door knocking on the few veterinary practices that were performing these techniques. Fortunately the first door opened the beginning of my embryology career working with goat embryos across NZ and Europe. One of the wonderful things about learning embryology in the farming industry is the sheer volume of material that you get to work with. By the time I started in the human fertility sector, I had handled literally thousands of embryos.

My first venture into the world of human fertility came after the stock market crash in ‘87 when the farming money dried up. I took on a position at National Women’s Infertility Unit where New Zealand’s first IVF baby was conceived. After several years, I became the Laboratory Manager and it was here in 1989 that I first met Guy Gudex, now Medical Director of Repromed. Over the years we have witnessed the technology evolve with the introduction of some revolutionary fertility techniques.

After a decade of embryology I decided it was time to broaden my horizons to include fertility research, completing a Masters in Health Science at the University of Auckland. Following this I took up a two year position in one of Europe’s leading fertility clinics in Sweden.

By now, time was ticking on and I was aware that I could not continue a clinical career at this high pace and have small children. I decided the best approach was move back into research which would offer me the key ingredient for any sane working mum - flexibility! I embarked on a Doctorate degree in a start-up biotech company. What attracted me to this project, was the ability to work on my area of expertise - increasing embryo implantation.

I submitted my thesis three weeks before the birth of my first son and became the first PhD graduate of Auckland University of Technology. My baby boy spent much of his first year sleeping under my office desk. Of course, this work flexibility was only possible with the relentless support from my husband and mother.

After 11 years of embryology research I moved on to take up a position as a Senior Research Fellow at the Auckland Medical School. I worked on a project aimed at enhancing the fertility rate of our NZ Dairy cows. Turns out 20% of our 6 million dairy cows are such prolific producers of milk that they suffer from low hormone levels, making it difficult for them to conceive. Who knew?

After this contract, I received a call from my old colleague Guy Gudex who asked if I had considered coming back to clinical embryology. Guy was pretty persuasive and after nearly 3 years in my dual role of Scientific Director and Quality Manager at Repromed, I know it was absolutely the right decision to make.

At Repromed I really value the down-to-earth culture and genuine caring ethos which is generated from the top down through leadership. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be working with such talented colleagues and have a vocation that is making a contribution to people’s quality of life. Obviously not everyone ends their fertility journey with a baby, and I am humbled by the resilience of the men and women who have the courage to go down this track, often repeatedly. That intense emotion definitely impacts on us.

But then you get the experience where a university student joins us and says “Hey, mum wanted me to ask if you remember me as a 2 cell embryo?” Wow. As it turned out Guy and I did indeed remember her mum very clearly from 23 years ago! And so you are reminded of the big picture and privilege. That you are helping build families not just for your clients but their grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins and of course, these unique and highly wanted offspring.

Repromed NZ offer private and public funded IVF treatment and may be able to help you. You can book a free 15 minute phone consultation with a fertility doctor. Click here to make the first step or call 0800 483 105 to find out more.

Individual results may vary dependant on your personal circumstances.