Helen M Picton

Helen M Picton


I am an ovarian physiologist by training. I obtained a first class honors degree in Animal Production Science from the University of Edinburgh in 1985. I moved to the Medical School at Edinburgh University to study for a Ph.D. at the Medical Research Council  (MRC) Centre For Reproductive Biology. My PhD studies investigated the gonadotrophic regulation of ovarian follicle development in sheep and were conducted under the supervision of Professors Alan McNeilly and David Baird. I then took up a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Animal Physiology at Nottingham University, Sutton Bonington Campus where I worked on the cell and molecular biology of follicles and oocytes. This fellowship included a 6-month sabbatical exploring the molecular biology of steroidogenic enzymes at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas. I moved to Leeds in 1996 where in 1999 I established and led the Reproduction and Early Development research group and associated Department until 2018. I was appointed to a personal Chair in 2008. I am currently Professor of Reproduction and Early Development in the Discovery and Translational Science Department within the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine. Since 1999 I have also filled the role of Scientific Director of Leeds Fertility within the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. My research laboratory has been the recipient of numerous research awards and prizes. I have supervised over 80 MSc research projects, and 28 Ph.D. and MD fellows. I have filed 4 patents and have published over 120 original research papers, reviews and book chapters in the field of female reproduction, fertility and the conservation of fertility. I have delivered over 125 invited lectures, seminars, symposium papers or prize lectures at national and international conferences and workshops worldwide.

In addition to my research portfolio I have specialized in research-led postgraduate teaching. Since 2000 I have developed and lead 2 highly successful, international MSc programmes in Clinical Embryology and Assisted Reproduction Technology.  More than 400 students have graduated from these 2 Masters programmes from over 60 countries worldwide.

My professional activities in the field of reproductive science and medicine range from acting as a temporary technical adviser for the WHO in 2001 to membership of advisory boards for clinical trials sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry.  From 2005-2009 I was the Chair of the UK Society For Reproduction and Fertility. I was the Chair of the joint executive committee of the British Fertility Societies from 2007-2009. From 2010-2015 I was coordinator of the ESHRE Task Force on Fertility Preservation In Severe Diseases. In  2012, I was awarded the Distinguished Scientist award by the UK Association For Clinical Embryology. I am currently a member of the UK, MRC Population Systems and Medicine Board and the associated sub-group on "Models and mechanisms of diseases”.


  • Head of the Reproduction and Early Development Research Group
  • Scientific Director of Leeds Fertility, Seacroft Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds
  • Programme Manager for MSc and PGDip in Clinical Embryology and Assisted Reproduction Technology

Research interests

My research is focused on the development of a detailed understanding of the cellular, metabolic and molecular biology of ovarian follicles, oocytes (eggs), sperm and embryos in humans and domestic animals. My laboratory in Leeds conducts research into folliculogenesis, oogenesis and embryogenesis in vivo and in vitro by studying metabolomics, genomics, genetics and epigenetics in human and animal reproductive cells. My research has led to the development of a suite of novel techniques which can be used for targeted discovery research, technology development and for translational research into the aetiology and treatment of human pathologies such as infertility. We have established a series of physiological culture systems that can be used to assess the biological function of reproductive cells and tissues and to grow immature follicles and oocytes to maturity in vitro. My laboratory has developed a comprehensive portfolio of experimental methods including histology, in situ hybridisation, multi-parameter FISH, RNA interference technologies, DNA and RNA extraction and molecular analysis of individual cells using techniques such as real time PCR, microarrays, RNA sequencing, pyrosequencing and methylation analysis and spectral karyotyping. We have used these methods to: (i) identify and characterise the cellular location and function of known and novel genes and epigenetic regulators in animal and human oocytes and embryos; (ii) characterise chromatin patterns in relation to oocyte maturity and metabolism; (iii) measure the membrane potential of oocytes;  (iv) identify key molecular and metabolic markers of oocyte and embryo health and to monitor how these change as development progresses; and (v) define the relationships between metabolism, chromosomal, genetic and epigenetic markers of oocyte and embryo health and disease.  My research on human cells has highlighted how the nutritional fingerprint of human oocytes change between healthy and infertility pathologies and have shown how these parameters change as women age. We have defined the imprinting status of key genes during human gamete and preimplantation development.

My research group acts as the research wing of Leeds Fertility within the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. This association has enabled my research to be used to provide valuable insights into the underlying causes of human infertility. These outcomes have been translated into the development of new assisted reproduction technologies such as the in vitro maturation of oocytes -a “patient friendly” assisted conception treatment. Most recently my interdisciplinary, collaborative research with the School of Engineering in Leeds has led to the design, fabrication and testing of a novel microfluidic device that aims to improve the outcome of embryo culture and to the development and testing of nanosensors for non-invasive measurement of single cell metabolism. My laboratory has extensive expertise in cryobiology and the freeze-banking of human reproductive cells and complex tissues and we have an international standing in the development of strategies for the conservation of fertility in young patients at risk of fertility loss as a result of the side effects of cancer treatment or genetic conditions that predispose girls and women to premature ovarian failure. We have successfully developed methods for whole ovary cryopreservation and transplantation as a means of fertility preservation. I have conducted and participated in national and international clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of new assisted reproduction technologies.

Recent Research Grant Funding

MRC project grant Ref MR/K020501-1: HM Picton (PI), JD Huntriss, AH Balen, and BK Campbell. Title: The lifecycle and legacy of human oocytes in health, age and infertility. Grant value £1,420,732  from 2013-2018.

NC3Rs Project Grant Ref NC/C016S02/1: V Pensabene and HM Picton. Title: CRACKIT CHALLENGE 24: EASE. Grant value £95,883 form 2017-2018;

MRC Confidence in Concept Award: HM Picton (PI), P Actis and V Pensabene. Title: Development and testing  of a novel integrated microfluidic and nanosensor human embryo culture device as a vehicle to improve the success of infertility treatments. Grant value £99,574 from 2018-2019.

MRC Project Grant Ref  G0801261: BK Campbell, B Webb and HM Picton. Title:    Preservation of fertility in monovular species. Grant value £493,365 from 2009-2012

MRC Project Grant Ref: G 0701388: HM Picton (PI) and JD Huntriss. Project Title: Biological foundation of epigenetic investigations of ART-derived human oocytes and preimplantation embryos. Grant value: £604,336 from 2008-2011

MRC Project Grant Ref: G 0800250: HM Picton (PI), JD Huntriss, AJ Rutherford and  BK Campbell. Title: Oocyte quality in health and disease. Grant value: £562,500, from 2008-2011

Candlelighters Charitable Trust: HM Picton (PI), A Glaser. Title: Fertility preservation in young female cancer patients. Grant value: £149,872 from 2007-2010.

New Life: (Birth Defects Foundation) Ref 06/26: J Huntriss and HM Picton. Title Analysis of the regulation of imprinted gene expression in human oocytes and preimplantation embryos: assessing mechanisms of epigenetic disruption from ART. Value £50,508, from 2007-2009

CRUK Project Grant: D Brison, H Picton, S Kimber, J Radford . Title: Ovarian tissue cryopreservation and autografting to reverse chemotherapy  and radiation induced infertility in women treated for cancer. Grant value:  £253,000 from 2006-2009.

Birth Defects Foundation: J Huntriss and HM Picton. Title: Development of a gene expression micro array to detect loss of imprinting in human preimplantation embryos conceived following assisted reproduction. Value £83, 920 from 2005-2006

Candlelighters Charitable Trust: HM Picton (PI), A Glaser, V Sharma, AJ  Rutherford. Title: Development and implementation of methods for restoring the

fertility of young female cancer patients. Grant value  £182,994 from 2004-2007.

Candlelighters Charitable Trust: HM Picton, A Glaser, V Sharma, AJ Rutherford. Title: Oocyte and ovarian tissue cryopreservation as a means to preserve the fertility of young cancer patients. Grant value: £183,751 from 2002-2005

MRC Project Grant Ref. No  G0400908: D Miller,  D Illes, AH Balen and HM Picton. Title: RNA profiling of human ejaculate spermatozoa: linking gene expression dynamics with fecundity at the molecular level. Value: £177,347 from 2005-2007.

BBSRC Project Grant Ref: BB/C007395/1: HM Picton (PI), BK Campbell and HJ Leese. Title Molecular and metabolic markers of oocyte quality.  Value:  £440,372 from 2005-2008

A number of industry funded discovery projects and clinical trials have been funded  by: Ako Nobel (Organon); Novo Nordisk; Serono/BFS; Novocellus; Origio Ltd.



  • BSc 1st Class (Hons), University of Edinburgh
  • Ph.D, University of Edinburgh

Professional memberships

  • Society for Reproduction and Fertility
  • Fellow Of The Royal Society of Biology
  • European Society For Human Reproduction and Embryology

Student education

My portfolio in student education is focused on research-led teaching in reproductive science and reproductive medicine at postgraduate level.

  • I am the programme manager for Masters and Postgraduate Diploma programmes in Clinical Embryology and Assisted Reproduction Technology. This 1 year, full time programme was launched in 2013 and aims to provide a vocational training for biomedical scientists, clinicians, nurses and veterinarians who aspire to develop a career in the field of human or animal clinical embryology and assisted reproductive technology, reproductive medicine or reproductive science.
  • I am the Programme Director of the longest running, international, part time distance learning Masters and Postgraduate Diploma programme in Clinical Embryology. This course provides a professional qualification for established clinical embryology and reproductive medicine practitioners.
  • I deliver lectures, tutorials and practical sessions on: the endocrinology of female reproduction; ovarian physiology; folliculogenesis; oogenesis; embryogenesis; ovarian ageing; the development and use of assisted reproduction technologies for the treatment of female infertility; and development and use of new technologies such as the in vitro growth and maturation of oocytes. I deliver lectures and practical training sessions on cryobiology and cryopreservation in relation to female reproduction and the preservation of ovarian tissues, oocyte sand embryos for the conservation of female fertility. I also teach on laboratory design, the ethics of clinical embryology in reproductive medicine and research methods and experimental design.
  • I contribute to the LICAMM international Ph.D. academy and supervise MSc, MD and Ph.D. projects in reproductive science and reproductive medicine.

Research groups and institutes

  • Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>
    <li><a href="//phd.leeds.ac.uk/project/226-licamm-bioengineering-and-evaluation-of-artificial-ovaries-for-fertility-preservation.">LICAMM Bioengineering and evaluation of artificial ovaries for fertility preservation.</a></li>