Sheena, you have been on the Executive Committee of ARCS since it formed in 2020 – were you part of any association before this?
I was the Chair of the British Andrology Society for a record nine years, and its treasurer before that. During that time I saw the importance of professional societies but also the limitations of our three societies (ACE, BAS and ABA) duplicating efforts and sometimes appearing ineffectual as we sang from different hymn sheets.
I had believed for some time that together our three societies could represent fertility services in the UK more effectively. I have been an instigator and hopefully an enabler of this new inclusive society for all clinical and reproductive scientists. I thought if we could unify and empower reproductive scientists to collaborate, pool resources, write guidelines and have a strong united voice, it would benefit our patients. What I didn’t envisage was that we would have had this role so quickly when COVID appeared, and our male and female patients needed clear and succinct information about the impact of both the disease and the need for vaccination to protect their fertility. The HFEA turned to ARCS and the British Fertility Society for advice. There are so many other advantages in a united, cohesive society such as opportunities to run members’ masterclasses and to educate and inform all fertility scientists more easily when they are on one database.
ARCS has also been useful in supporting the design of the Scientists’ Training Programs (STPs) in Andrology and Embryology for healthcare scientists through NHS Healthcare England. These STPs are now a full-time, three-year programs integrating work-based learning with a combination of academic learning based in the University where trainees can apply and develop their academic knowledge in the NHS workplace. These STPs will provide and protect career pathways and raise the work status of all our members.
What is your main role in ARCS?
I am on the Executive committee so that means plenty of work for all of us running the association, organising conferences, taking part in writing guidelines, talking to the Science Media Centre about press releases on new papers, chairing our specific special interest groups (SIGs), managing our finances and feeding back to the whole committee. We meet four times each year to discuss and agree on a very comprehensive range of ARCS topics. Each of these meetings tasks us with a few specific action points to complete before we meet again.
Recently, I have been running Andrology Masterclasses with Dr Celine Jones from Oxford University.
The aim of these courses was to provide a unique opportunity for ARCS members to expand and update clinically relevant knowledge in the area of male infertility. It provided a succinct background to the latest evidence-based scientific advances and an opportunity to discuss their interpretation in the clinical setting. The target audience was embryologists and biomedical andrologists with an interest in the impact of advanced andrological tools for male infertility diagnosis and ART success.
We covered these topics:
History taking and clinical examination of the infertile man
Giving results to men
Patients’ understanding of unexplained infertility and failed fertilization
The Impact of PICSI on Miscarriage and Live births
The Use of MACS and ROS testing in the lab
Sperm DNA fragmentation and its impact on ART diagnosis and treatment
Y chromosome deletions
Each speaker had just 15 minutes to introduce their topic with five slides of the latest data to the audience followed by a case study of a real-life clinical dilemma. Then delegates went to breakout rooms to ask questions and comment on their own clinical experience. The first masterclass filled up within days and the second one was full too. Feedback was great so we will run further similar courses in 2022.
You have offered support to any ARCS members who are interested in research, how does this work, exactly?
The Scientific Advisory Committee (link) is offering one-to-one chats with anyone as they start to think about a project.
We are happy to put our heads together with scientific advisors of projects for STP projects and also for those NOT doing an STP. We have all made clangers in our early careers so we just want to help others to avoid making the same mistakes. We have also put a short summary of ’where to start’ on the website.
Scientists in clinical roles often have very little time beyond their clinical duties to spend looking at data or putting together abstracts or posters to present at meetings. Have you got any advice on how to manage this?
One of our ARCS’s aims is to improve the quality and quantity of research undertaken.
Jason Kasraie, Karen Schnauffer, Lorraine Frew and I were on the abstract scoring committee for Fertility 2022 and we realised our members need a little help. Unlike other societies where people can be full time, funded researchers, ARCS members are often in the lab doing clinical work from Monday to Friday and putting research projects and conference papers together is often done in our spare time. Also, our juniors have little experience in this area.
So, we thought it would be good if those of us with experience in research could give a little advice and support to make the process of preparing an abstract a bit easier.
What are your aims for ARCS in the future?
I will start my answer with a question!
Did you know?
Up to 80% of couples with fertility problems either don’t get along their journey as far as a fertility clinic or drop out before they have a baby because of expense, stress or disappointment from a failed treatment cycle. Since fertility treatment has a modest success rate of under 30%, it is a long and expensive process. The NHS spends approximately £70 million each year but covers only 30% of treatment costs. Couples self-fund the remaining 70%, spending between £5-20,000 per cycle of treatment. Because of this expense, up to 80% of couples in the UK suffering from infertility cannot proceed to the treatment they so desperately need.
Going forward, one of my aims is encourage us to use our ARCS professional voice to lobby for affordable treatment and stress the need for equality of fertility care for men and women alike.