Prestigious award spurs the hunt for the reasons behind poor semen quality

​A Danish-Finnish study will examine and compare semen from Danish and Finnish fathers and their sons for the first time. The head of the Finnish part of the study, Professor Jorma Toppari, has just received Rigshospitalet's International KFJ Award.

Researchers from Rigshospitalet and the University of Turku in Finland have been working together for more than 20 years on ground-breaking research; among other things research into poor semen quality. The research has indicated that influence from endocrine disruptors in the foetus stage has a negative impact on the adult males’ testicular function, and this is reflected in poor semen quality.

The Danish and the Finnish researchers are now launching the next stage of their of research collaboration. In the near future, up to 2,500 young men and their fathers (1,100 in Denmark and 1,400 in Finland) will be invited to have their semen put under the microscope.  This will help shed light on the extent to which negative environmental impacts (so-called epigenetic changes) on the fathers’ semen may be passed on to the next generation. The head of the Finnish part of the study, Jorma Toppari, a professor in physiology at the University of Turku, explained:
“There’s increasing evidence that suggests that environmental impacts passed on from fathers to sons, and then on to grandchildren, are mediated by epigenetic changes in sperm cells. By comparing the epigenome from fathers and sons, we can find out more about these mechanisms. Our comparisons will enable us to make new specific hypotheses and direct future research. However, our ultimate goal is naturally to be able to recognise every harmful environmental factor which could possibly be eliminated, so that we can secure the health of generations to come,” he said.

Award strengthens Danish-Finnish collaboration 

Rigshospitalet recently recognised the unique research collaboration by presenting the International KFJ Award to Jorma Toppari at a ceremony at the hospital.

The award of DKK 1.5 million has been made possible by a generous donation from the Kirsten and Freddy Johansen Foundation. DKK 1.25 million of the award will go to the research collaboration between Rigshospitalet and Jorma Toppari.
The remaining DKK 250,000 is a personal award to Jorma Toppari.

"I'm extremely happy and honoured to receive this award. It’s recognition of a lot of hard work by a large number of researchers in both Denmark and Finland to find solutions to the increasing global problem of men’s poor reproductive health,” said Jorma Toppari.

Parallel studies

In Denmark, Professor Anders Juul, Head of Department at the Department of Growth and Reproduction at Rigshospitalet, is also extremely pleased with the collaboration with his Finnish colleagues.

“The unique aspect about our collaboration is that we conduct our surveys and analyses in parallel in both Denmark and Finland. This allows us to see whether men in Denmark are exposed to more or other types of harmful chemicals than men in Finland - and vice versa. Knowing more about this aspect means that, in the long term, we will hopefully be able to identify the endocrine disruptors or other environmental conditions that destroy an increasing number of otherwise healthy young men's chances of becoming fathers by nature's hand,” he said.

From foetus to young men 

The Danish-Finnish collaboration started more than 20 years ago. At that time, 2,500 Danish and Finnish women were examined during their pregnancy. After having followed the families through their sons’ childhood and puberty, the researchers are now ready to study the boys as young adults.

Both the Finnish and the Danish groups have repeatedly collected an extensive number of biological samples, questionnaire data on lifestyle and diet etc., hormone data, chemical exposure analyses and physical measurements of general body growth and composition as well as data on genital growth and development. The boys are now approaching 18-20 years, which provides an extraordinary opportunity to assess the effects of the environment on testicular function in the foetus and in adult life, including poor semen quality.

It is the eighth time that Rigshospitalet has presented the International KFJ Award. The award helps strengthen Rigshospitalet’s relations to an international researcher and an international research community. This means that it supports Rigshospitalet's vision to maintain an internationally high level within clinical research and translational medicine.

Facts about poor semen quality

  • Poor semen quality is widespread among otherwise healthy Danish men.

  • There could be many reasons.

  • For example, poor semen quality could be caused by in-utero influences, such as exposure to endocrine disruptors or the smoking habits of the mother during pregnancy.

  • Damage caused in the womb cannot be undone in the adult man.

  • Up to 25% of all Danish men have poor semen quality, making it difficult and sometimes impossible to have children.

Previous recipients of the KFJ Award

  • 2017: Tom Eirik Mollnes, senior researcher at Nordland Sykehus in Bodø, Norway, professor in immunology at Oslo and Tromsø universities and professor at the Centre of Molecular Inflammation Research (CEMIR) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

  • 2016: John E. Dick, professor and senior researcher at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at HYPERLINK "https://www.uhn.ca/PrincessMargaret" the University Health Network in Toronto, Canada.

  • 2015: John C. Burnett, professor and cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA.

  • 2014: Mary Relling, pharmacist at the Pharmaceutical Department, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.

  • 2013: Søren Bentzen, professor in epidemiology and radiotherapy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, USA

  • 2012: Tomas Olsson, professor in neurology at the Center for Molecular Medicine and the Department of Neurology at Karolinska Sjukhuset in Stockholm, Sweden

  • 2011: Bruce R. Rosen, professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, USA.

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