American College of Embryology names Dr. Jaques Cohen as the Embryologist of the Year 2017 for his life-long contributions to the field of human Reproductive Embryology.
Starting in 2013, the American College of Embryology has established a tradition of announcing the Embryologist of the Year. The selection is based on significant contributions to human Reproductive Embryology. Past recipients: Dr. Van Blerkom 2013, Dr. Gianpiero Palermo 2014, Dr. Masashige Kuwayama 2015 and Dr. Ryuzo Yanagimachi, 2016.
Dr. Jaques Cohen has been the North-American editor of Zygote and Chief Editor of Reproductive Medicine Online. He has 15 patents, published over 200 papers and hundreds of abstracts. He has lectured in 32 countries and received awards from Ares Serono, Life Global, Resolve and the American Fertility Association. Jacques is currently the President of the ART Institute of Washington, and Founder and President of Althea Science, which develops Apps for laboratories and clinics.
Jacques studied Molecular Biology (B.Sc.) at Leiden University, and continued his Masters in Reproductive Science and Embryology (1978) with Prof. Gerard Zeilmaker, who was a well-known cryobiologist and experimental embryologist, at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. He continued work there as a Ph.D. candidate with a thesis on male factor infertility and in vitro fertilization (1982). This is where he was introduced to micromanipulation and cryopreservation technology.
He joined the Bourn Hall Clinic team in Cambridge (UK) that same year and focused his research on male factor infertility and cryopreservation of human embryos while being an associate researcher at the Physiology Department of Cambridge University. His post-doctoral supervisor in both institutes was Prof. Bob Edwards. His collaborators at Bourn Hall Clinic and Physiology were Jean Purdy, Carole Fehilly-Willadsen, Bob Edwards, Jonathan Hewitt, Colin Howles, Patrick Steptoe, Simon Fishel, Roger Simons and John Webster. While at Bourn Hall Clinic, Jacques and the Bourn Hall team spearheaded work on applying IVF to male factor couples, which resulted in many babies, even in extreme cases of male factor infertility. Initial laboratory work on using micromanipulation to overcome fertilization failure was commenced. Jacques and the Bourn Hall team were the first to successfully freeze the expanded and hatched human blastocyst in 1984. Offspring from this work are now in their mid-thirties. After two consulting positions in London with Prof Ian Craft and Dr. Bridget Mason in 1985, Jacques moved to Atlanta, Georgia (USA) where he joined the team of Hilton Kort, Joe Massey and Carlene Elsner at Reproductive Biology Associates. He continued work on three main areas of interests: (I) laboratory quality control, (II) micro-surgical fertilization for male factor and (III) cryopreservation. A research laboratory was established at Emory University with Henry Malter. The two were the first to successfully fertilize the human oocyte with micromanipulation. First micro-manipulation babies were born in 1988. During the same period Klaus Wiemer did his clinical internship in the Atlanta lab and developed a method for co-culture with somatic cells. Jacques’ observations led to the first clinical trials of assisted hatching, but also the observation that spermatozoa must be deposited in the ooplasm rather than the perivitelline space as the block to polyspermy in the human resides in the oolemma. Both microsurgical alternatives preceding ICSI were bound to fail due to the physiological differences between mouse and human oocytes. Monospermic fertilization did not exceed 25%. During the Atlanta years, Jacques established clinics in Hong Kong, Orlando Florida, and Houston Texas.
In 1989, Jacques and Henry moved to New York City and Cornell University Medical Center where they joined the team of Zev Rosenwaks, Michael Bedford, Mina Alikani, Alan Berkeley, Owen Davis, Beth Talansky and Margaret Graf. The first baby from PGD in the USA was born from work performed by the Cornell team, once Jamie Grifo joined the group in 1990. Santiago (Santi) Munne became Jacques’ postdoc and longtime collaborator in 1991 and together with the clinical team, they developed aneuploidy diagnosis (PGS). Gianpiero Palermo, Steen Willadsen and Jacob Levron joined Jacques’ team in 1993. Studies involved cytoplasmic-nuclear manipulations and effects of aberrations of fertilization and early embryo development centered on chromosome anomalies. Together with Yona Tadir and Jossi Neev, Jacques’ lab developed the first non-contact laser for micromanipulation in 1993. Contemporary commercial lasers are based on this work. Jacques and other team members moved to Saint Barnabas Medical Center in West Orange, New Jersey, in 1995. There they joined Richard Scott, Paul Bergh, Michael Drews, David Sable and Tim Schimmel.
Santi, Mina and Jacques have co-authored well over one hundred peer-review papers, and several hundred abstracts. In 1999, they were joined by Dagan Wells. At Saint-Barnabas, the focus was (I) on expanding quality control aspects, (II) embryo selection and (III) aspects of repeated implantation failure. The in-house developed EMR and a group of dedicated researchers became the basis for experimental clinical work. The clinical base for PGS was extended to long-term collaborators in other clinics particularly SISMER (Luca Gianoroli and Cristina Magli) in Italy. Steen Willadsen, Henry Malter and Jacob Levron’s technology together with Carole Brenner and Jason Barritt’s molecular studies on mitochondria were the basis for experimental work related to cytoplasmic transfer. Patients with repeated implantation failure were selected for an experimental pilot study on cytoplasmic transfer. This resulted in the first babies born from such procedures, but the work was criticized for some time.
At Saint Barnabas, the laboratory expanded its interest into air pollution, its clinical effects and potential counter measures. Jacques founded IVF online (now Life Global) with Michael Cecchi and Monica Mezezi in 1998 as well as Alpha Environmental with Antonia Gilligan. Both organizations have had a dramatic impact on improving environmental conditions in IVF laboratories and have set standards for the future. Together with Tim and Klaus, Jacques has continued to develop products for Life Global. In 2004, a hospital reorganization split the team at Saint Barnabas into two. Both the research team (under the direction of Santi and Jacques) and the clinical team (under the direction of John and Margaret Garrisi) went private. The PGD team had earlier been incorporated into Reprogenetics. The latter was procured by Cooper Genomics in 2015.
Jacques has founded two professional organizations: (I) Alpha – Scientists In Reproductive Medicine, and (II) PGDIS – PGD-International Society. He has been the North-American editor of Zygote and Chief Editor of Reproductive Medicine Online. He has 15 patents, published over 200 papers and hundreds of abstracts. He has lectured in 32 countries and received awards from Ares Serono, Life Global, Resolve and the American Fertility Association. Jacques is currently the President of the ART Institute of Washington, and Founder and President of Althea Science, which develops Apps for laboratories and clinics. He still collaborates with Santiago Munne, Mina Alikani, Henry Malter, Tim Schimmel, Klaus Wiemer and Dagan Wells.