skip to content

Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience

small carousel

Course organisers: Paul Schofield ( and Erica Watson (


Welcome to this course in Human Reproduction. Through it you should acquire a sound scientific basis for understanding how we reproduce: a fundamental element of our survival as a species. Whilst the essentials of reproduction are common to all mammals, there are important variations in reproductive strategies between species which it is important for doctors to appreciate in order to interpret correctly the results of medical research. It is also the case that for humans the reproductive process has ramifications that extend through social, familial, sexual, religious, ethical and political aspects of Society. This means that the reproductive process can trigger powerful emotional responses and deep social reactions.

The modern medical techniques of assisted reproduction, many of them developed here in Cambridge, repeatedly elicit such responses and reactions: witness the impact of cloning, the use of spermatozoa from dead men in in-vitro fertilisation, the challenge of the new genetics. Issues around gender, sexuality, contraception and abortion have historically generated passionate responses and continue to do so today. As doctors, you will have to confront these strong views and the complex practical and ethical problems that reproduction can bring. In order to do so, you need a firm foundation in the underlying science as it applies to individuals and to populations. In this course we concentrate on your scientific understanding and knowledge, but we point wherever possible to the clinical relevance.

Course aims

The course aims to provide you with a basic understanding of:

  • the biology of human reproduction,
  • the social and ethical context within which reproductive events take place,
  • how to begin applying this understanding to clinical problems.

Course learning objectives

By the end of this course of lectures and practicals you should understand:

  • The principles of demography, and their application to reproduction.
  • How birth and death rates and population size have changed with economic and social development.
  • The principles of population genetics, genetic structure of populations, natural selection within populations and the concept of fitness.
  • Principle of sexual reproduction; how the two sexes are generated, mature and function
  • The relationships between sex, gender and sexuality.
  • How the menstrual cycle is regulated and the potential influence of external factors such as stress, relationships and the environment.
  • The control of puberty.
  • The main types of reproductive loss and morbidity and their causes.
  • The principles and applications of assisted reproduction.
  • The social and ethical issues raised by the advent of assisted reproduction technologies.
  • Techniques and applications of prenatal genetic screening.
  • How mature male and female gametes are formed, come together and generate a conceptus.
  • How the conceptus develops, signals its presence to the mother and establishes a pregnancy.
  • How pregnancy is maintained successfully through to parturition.
  • How labour and delivery are initiated and controlled and newborn mammal is nurtured.
  • Genomic imprinting and DNA methylation in the control of early development.
  • Fetal programming of postnatal physiology.
  • Prematurity and its clinical management.
  • Sexually transmitted disease