Rebecca Robker

Professor Rebecca Robker

Professor

Adelaide Medical School

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Eligible to supervise Masters and PhD - email supervisor to discuss availability.


Professor Rebecca Robker is a biomedical scientist whose vision is to improve health of women and children by discovering how the ovary generates oocytes and then releases them for fertilisation and the creation of a new individual. Her work is also uncovering cellular mechanisms by which different maternal physiological signals, such as obesity and age, affect ovarian function, and early embryo development.

Professor Robker is an NHMRC Senior Research Fellow. Her Ovarian Cell Biology Research Group sits within the School of Medicine and Faculty of Health Sciences. Her lab is also part of the Robinson Research Institute, where she is a Leader of the Early Origins of Health Theme, which is identifying biological mechanisms by which events in early life, including at conception, influence later health.

The discoveries of Professor Robker’s team are leading to new understandings of female fertility. They have applications for the development of infertility treatments for women, therapies for optimising animal reproduction and new contraceptives, as well as important implications for women’s health policies.

All aspects of women’s health are dependent upon proper functioning of the ovary, which produces essential steroid hormones as well as oocytes- precious cells which are the foundation for transmission of life.  

The ovary consists of highly specialised cell types, which generate a microenvironment for the oocyte that establishes its developmental potential, i.e. its ability to make an embryo. Ovulation- the timely release of an oocyte from a woman’s ovary is tightly regulated by hormones and environmental conditions to precisely synchronise reproductive events for fertilisation and the generation of new life. The egg must be of good quality and developmentally competent in order to generate a healthy embryo, capable of implantation and a continued legacy of good health. In plain terms: a good quality egg at the right time provides the fundamental basis for the healthiest start to life.

Research History:

Dr Robker received her Bachelor of Science from the University of Texas at Austin and her PhD in Biomedical Science from Baylor College of Medicine (Houston TX). Her PhD studies discovered novel mechanisms by which hormones control ovarian cell proliferation (Nature 1996; Mol Endo 1998) and identified long sought proteases that control ovulation (PNAS 2000). Dr Robker undertook an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship in Leukocyte Biology (Baylor College of Medicine) where her studies revealed that leukocytes are resident in adipose tissue and activated by high fat diet (Obesity 2004; AJP- Cell Physiol 2006).

In 2003, Dr Robker re-located to the University of Adelaide in order to join its unparalleled concentration of leaders in the fields of Reproductive Medicine and Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DoHaD). Here her work demonstrated that ovarian somatic cells and oocytes are affected by obesity (Endocrinology 2008, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2009). Dr Robker’s team has further discovered the mechanisms by which lipid metabolism and lipid excess affect oocyte developmental potential (Biology of Reprod 2010, Mol Endo 2010), and most recently found that obesity-induced alterations in oocyte mitochondria persist into offspring tissues (Development 2015), revising our understanding of developmental origins of health.

Research Team:

Dr Robker’s Ovarian Cell Biology group is a talented, enthusiastic and cohesive team. Current members of the ovarian cell biology team are: postdoctoral fellow Dr Linda Wu and postgraduate students Siew Wong, Macarena Gonzalez, Thao Dinh and Yasmyn Gordon. The group is also currently accepting new students to work on a number of exciting projects relating to nutritional control of oocyte quality and molecular mechanisms of ovulation.

Research Interests and Current Projects:

Discovering how oocytes mature within the ovary and how nutrition affects their embryonic capacity.

Discovering mechanisms within the oocyte that set offspring mitochondrial inheritance and how obesity, age and Assisted Reproduction Technologies (ART) influence this biology.

Identifying therapies, both pharmaceutical and lifestyle, to reverse the detrimental effects of obesity on early embryo development.

Identifying how in vitro environments influence embryo metabolic profile and mitigating these changes to prevent future disease risks from Assisted Reproduction Technologies.

Identifying the oocyte’s role in connecting maternal and offspring physiology, to transform our understanding of maternal influences on offspring health.

Determining why maternal obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) impair ovulation and diminish oocyte developmental competence.

Investigating how immune cells influence ovarian function.

Identifying the molecular mechanisms that control ovulation.

Research Funding (selected)

Date Funding Body Project Title
2016 Diabetes Australia Is mitochondrial dysfunction in IVF blastocysts responsible for impaired glucose metabolism in offspring?
2014-2016 NHMRC The obesity-prone egg
2014-2016 NHMRC Manipulating Ovarian Follicle - Oocyte Communication to Control Reproductive Outcomes
2013-2016 NHMRC (Career Development Fellowship) A good quality egg at the right time
2013 Gardiner Foundation Improving the fertility of high performance Holstein cows during early lactation
2012 Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation Reversing the detrimental effects of obesity on early embryo growth
2012 Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation The impact of lipotoxicity in the ovaries and oocytes of obese women on embryo health
2011-2013 NHMRC Cumulus cell invasive migration: clearing a path for the oocyte
2011 Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation Preservation of Female Fertility For Young Cancer Patients: The Importance of Fatty Acid Oxidation in a 3-D Ovarian Follicle Culture System
2008-2010 ARC Cellular signals controlling oocyte activation.
2007-2009 NHMRC Obesity and infertility: Effects of diet-induced insulin resistance on oocyte quality
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  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2017 Principal Supervisor Re-energising the Pre-implantation Embryo to Extend Lifetime Health Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Yasmyn Ellaynah Gordon
    2017 Principal Supervisor Reversing age associated declines in oocyte quality and female fertility Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr David Thomas Kennedy
    2016 Co-Supervisor Long non-coding RNAS mediate hormone action and oocyte maturation Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Doan Thao Dinh
  • Past Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2013 - 2017 Principal Supervisor Regulation of Membrane Domains and Mitochondrial Dynamics during Normal Oocyte Maturation and Embryogenesis and in Response to Physiological Stress Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Siew Leng Wong
    2013 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Dietary Interventions for Improving Fertility Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Macarena Bermudez Gonzalez
    2011 - 2014 Co-Supervisor Metabolic Phenotyping of Young Adults and Mice Born Through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Mr Miaoxin Chen
    2010 - 2012 Co-Supervisor Ovarian Follicular Fluid Reflects the Clinical Condition and Oocyte Cumulus Homeostasis Master of Medical Science Master Full Time Miss Tawiwan Pantasri
    2009 - 2013 Co-Supervisor Investigation into the Expression and Localisation of C-Kit and the Regulation of Kit Ligand Gene Expression in the Adult Human Ovary Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Astrud Tuck
    2008 - 2009 Co-Supervisor Characterisation of the Development and Hormonal Regulation of the Ovarian Lymphatic Vasculature Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Hannah Brown
    2008 - 2011 Principal Supervisor The Role of the Cumulus Oocyte Complex During Ovulation Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Emily Alvino
    2008 - 2013 Principal Supervisor The Role of Nuclear Progesterone Receptor (PGR) in Regulating Gene Expression, Morphology and Function in the Ovary and Oviduct during the Periovulatory Period Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Lisa Akison
    2006 - 2009 Co-Supervisor Diet-Induced Obesity Influences Oocyte Developmental Competence Via Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Gamma (PPARG)-Mediated Mechanisms Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Dr Cadence Haynes
    2005 - 2008 Co-Supervisor Functional Characterisation of the Cumulus Oocyte Matrix During Maturation of Oocytes Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Dr Kylie Dunning
    2005 - 2009 Co-Supervisor The Impact of Exogenous TGF Beta 1 on Male Reproductive Function Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Leanne McGrath
  • Position: Professor
  • Phone: 83138159
  • Email: rebecca.robker@adelaide.edu.au
  • Campus: North Terrace
  • Building: Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences, floor 5
  • Room: WS5059.01
  • Org Unit: Paediatrics and Reproductive Health

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