Associate Professor
Tallinn University of Technology
Tallinn, Estonia


Who is Agne?

I have a background in molecular biology and biomedicine. After my initial studies in virology and neurobiology labs I had an opportunity to work at an infertility clinic as an embryologist. There I became fascinated about the importance of cell-to-cell communication necessary for the maturation of a healthy oocyte, a pre-requisite for female fertility, as the oocyte is incapable of maturation without the accompanying cells. I finished my PhD studies investigating gene expression in different cell populations in the human ovary and ever since I have tried to further understand the importance of molecular signals between these cells. 

What is your focus in the FREIA project? 

It is well known that an average female in the modern world encounters hundreds of environmental chemicals during her lifetime, some of which act as EDCs. It is only natural for me to ask, if and how these chemicals disturb the normal cell-to-cell communication in the ovary and how this affects oocyte development and maturation. In the FREIA project I am involved in a project investigating, which EDCs are found in measurable quantities in the human follicular fluid and how these chemicals change the expression of small RNAs that are important means of communication between cell types over a distance. In addition, we ask a similar question in a better controlled setting: rats exposed with a set of EDCs during different stages of their development and how these exposures affect the health of their ovarian follicles. My roles in these projects are the gene expression studies and bioinformatic data analysis. 

What is an interesting result you have obtained so far?

I believe that the most interesting results are yet to be published, as all the projects are very much on the way. However, I am impressed by the advancements of technologies that allow the analysis of all activated genes from single cells and tiny amounts of body fluids that we have successfully mastered to use also in the FREIA projects. 

What would you like to accomplish within the FREIA project? 

I think that it is very important to demonstrate either the safety or harmfulness of potential EDCs in in vivo settings – showing that individuals exposed to certain chemicals have or do not have a detrimental fertility outcome. And if harmful, what is the underlying mechanism leading to reduced infertility. In my opinion this is the most important question to be answered by the end of FREIA.

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting you/your work?

In Estonia, the research labs have not been closed down during the pandemic. Therefore, I have managed to carry on my work as usual.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the people following FREIA?

The collaborators in the FREIA project are doing extensive work in trying to understand how EDCs affect female infertility at the molecular level. I invite everyone interested to read about the results obtained during FREIA thus far.