The International IVF Initiative - i3

Session 51: Reproductive BioMedicine in Space II

International IVF Initiative

Session 51: Reproductive BioMedicine in Space II

Session 51: Reproductive BioMedicine in Space II
The Trip to Mars

Tuesday 16th February, 2021. 8PM GMT / 9PM CET / 3PM EST

Moderators: Dr. Jacques Cohen and Giles Palmer
with Panelists Dr. Fathi Karouia and Professor Virginia Wotring

"The Impact of Spaceflight on the Human Body and preparing for Mars missions"
Dr. Christopher E Mason

“Culture, Ethics and our Human Future in Space“
Dr. Michael Waltemathe

"…But now what? Where to from here?"
Dr. Kira Bacal


Dr. Christopher Mason is an Associate Professor of Genomics, Physiology, and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction. He also holds affiliate appointments at the Tri-I Program on Computational Biology and Medicine (Cornell, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Rockefeller University), Harvard Medical School, and Yale Law School.
The Mason laboratory develops and deploys new biochemical and computational methods in functional genomics to elucidate the genetic basis of human disease and physiology. We create and deploy novel techniques in next-generation sequencing and algorithms for: tumor evolution, genome evolution, DNA and RNA modifications, and genome/epigenome engineering. We also work closely with NIST/FDA to build international standards for these methods (SEQC2, IMMSA, and Epigenomics QC groups), to ensure clinical-quality genome measurements and editing. We also work with NASA to build integrated molecular portraits of genomes, epigenomes, transcriptomes, and metagenomes for astronauts, which help establish the molecular foundations and genetic defenses for enabling long-term human spaceflight.

Dr. Mason has won the NIH’s Transformative R01 Award, the NASA Group Achievement Award, the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance Young Investigator award, the Hirschl-Weill-Caulier Career Scientist Award, the Vallee Scholar Award, the CDC Honor Award for Standardization of Clinical Testing, and the WorldQuant Foundation Scholar Award. He was named as one of the “Brilliant Ten” Scientists by Popular Science, featured as a TEDMED speaker, and called “The Genius of Genetics” by 92Y. He has >230 peer-reviewed papers and scholarly works that have been featured on the covers of Nature, Science, Cell, Nature Biotechnology, Nature Microbiology, and Neuron, as well as legal briefs cited by the U.S. District Court and U.S. Supreme Court. Coverage of his work has also appeared on the covers of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TIME, The LA Times, and across many media (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, PBS, NASA, NatGeo). He is an inventor on four patents, co-founded five biotechnology start-up companies, and serves as an advisor to many others. He lives with his daughter and wife in Brooklyn, NY.


Dr. Michael Waltemathe is senior lecturer at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany. Michael is also the Co-Principal Investigator for Interstellar Exploration and Society at the Interdisciplinary Center for Interstellar Exploration at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He serves as an officer of the Astrosociology Research Institute and is a founding member of IASGAR, the International Academy for the Study of Gaming and Religion.
Besides the anthology "Touching the face of the Comos
-On the Intersection of Spaceflight and Religion", which he co-edited with Paul Levinson, his publications include a monograph on computer-games and religion and several articles on Space-Exploration, Ethics, Science, Technology and Religion with an interdisciplinary perspective.


Dr. Kira Bacal was born in the United States and received her bachelor’s in math and biology from Amherst College. She attended Baylor College of Medicine where she earned a PhD in molecular physiology and biophysics and a medical degree, as well as a Masters in Public Health from the University of Texas. She trained in both Emergency Medicine and Aerospace Medicine, and was in the US Air Force Reserves.
She worked at NASA-Johnson Space Center in the Office of Space Medicine’s Medical Informatics and Health Care Systems, designing medical systems for use in space. Dr Bacal also worked in health policy at the US Senate and at Ohio University before emigrating to New Zealand in 2007.
She now serves as the deputy head of one of New Zealand’s two medical programmes as well as working for a medical assistance company.
Dr Bacal also has personal experience with reproductive technology in two different countries – all four of her children were conceived through IVF with a donor. She regards this area of medicine as one where the nexus of policy and practice is particularly visible and can provoke fascinating dialogues, just like aerospace medicine does.


Dr. Fathi Karouia is senior research scientist within the Astrobiology and Space Sciences Divisions at NASA Ames Research Center (Silicon Valley, CA). Dr. Karouia conducts research related to astrobiology, space biology, and human spaceflight. In particular, he is interested in 1) life beyond Earth and how biological systems respond to the space environment, 2) understanding and mitigating the effects of space radiation on astronaut’s health, and 3) developing high-throughput technology for in-situ space research.
Until recently and in addition to his research activities, Dr. Karouia was the Space Biology Non-Rodent Portfolio Lead Scientist and a Mission Scientist at NASA. As such, he oversaw all investigations conducted aboard the International Space Station and managed by the Space Biology program. Additionally, he helped Principal Investigators selected by NASA Space Life and Physical Sciences to design, develop, and implement biological experiments aboard the International Space Station. Dr. Fathi Karouia received a PhD in biology from the University of Houston, a Master degree in Space Studies from the International Space University, a Master degree in Space Technologies from Louis Pasteur University, a Master degree in Physics and a Bachelor Degree in Physics and Chemistry from Henri Poincare University.




Professor Virginia Wotring has been using her training in biochemistry (BS, Florida State University), physiology & pharmacology (PhD, Saint Louis University, USA) to study the actions of medications used during spaceflight missions.
This means first studying the effects of the spaceflight environment on physiology and then turning to potential spaceflight-induced changes in pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Virginia has been doing this during positions at Johnson Space Center and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX, and now at the International Space University in Strasbourg France. She had held management positions in the past, most recently as Deputy Director and Chief Scientist of the NASA-funded Translational Research Institute for Space Health, however she prefers doing science to managing it.



Jacques Cohen is a reproductive biologist, laboratory product developer and high complexity laboratory director (HCLD). He is director and founder of the ART Institute of Washington, which runs the joint National Institute of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center IVF program in Bethesda Maryland (USA). He is product developer and co-founder of IVFqc/Althea Science, which develops software solutions for laboratories and clinics. He was co-founder of Reprogenetics, a PGD service, now continuing as Cooper Genomics. He was a co-founder and product developer of Life-Global/IVF-Online. He has (co-)authored more than 300 publications, several textbooks and 12 patents. He is Emeritus Chief Editor of Reproductive Biomedicine Online. He was one of the founders of Alpha – Scientists in Reproductive Medicine and one of the founders of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis International Society - PGDIS. He is a founding member of the International IVF Initiative.

Jacques Cohen was born in The Hague, The Netherlands and graduated in Biology of Reproductive Science in 1978 at Leiden University, Leiden, The Netherlands. He has a Ph.D. from Erasmus University in Rotterdam (supervisor Prof. Gerard Zeilmaker), in aspects of in vitro fertilization and male factor infertility. His postdoctoral studies (1982-1985) were performed at Cambridge University (UK) and Bourn Hall Clinic (supervisor Prof Robert Edwards). Jacques Cohen has (co-)developed a number of embryological methodologies and devices: blastocyst cryopreservation, assisted fertilization, assisted hatching, preimplantation genetic testing, ooplasmic donation, single sperm freezing, CODA filtration, Global media, and GPS dishes. He currently serves on Advisory Boards of biotech startups TMRW, Kindbody, DADI and Phosphorus.



Giles Palmer is a clinical embryologist, skilled in laboratory, business and quality management. After graduating in Genetics at Leeds University, UK he worked as a research officer at London's Hammersmith Hospital's acclaimed IVF unit working with Professors Lord Winston and Alan Handyside. In the following years he has worked mainly in Greece consulting in several countries including Iceland, Nigeria and the Balkan states.
His early collaboration with St. Sophia's Children's Hospital (Athens University) resulted in the first births in Greece following embryo-biopsy and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. He has published in leading scientific journals on a variety of topics including pre-implantation genetic testing for Cystic Fibrosis and B-thalassaemia, Morphokinectics and Quality Management. He is a HCPC clinical scientist and has been accredited with Senior Embryologist Status by ESHRE. More recently he has become a consultant and product developer in a wide range of areas within the industry.

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