Sarah Kimmins: Healthy dads, healthy kids

Sarah Kimmins

Sarah Kimmins

Credit: Amélie Philibert | Université de Montréal

In 5 seconds

UdeM’s new epigenetics professor cares deeply about men’s health, since it affects both their fertility and the health of future generations.

Whenever people talk about the health of an unborn child, they immediately assume the mother has the biggest impact. But the role played by the father has increasingly come under scrutiny.

For more than 20 years, Sarah Kimmins has examined the mechanisms involved in the epigenetic inheritance that parents pass on to their children, with a special focus on men's health and how their lifestyle and environment affect their fertility and the health of their offspring.

Kimmins recently began leading a research team at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) to learn more about the role that the sperm epigenome plays in embryonic development and intergenerational disease transmission. Ultimately, the team aims to improve prevention and intervention strategies for men’s health to increase their fertility and improve the health of their children.

Pre-conception changes in sperm chromatin as a result of exposure to toxic substances, food or obesity are associated with a higher risk of chronic disease or neurodevelopmental disorders in children. The way men live their lives today will affect the health of future generations. — Sarah Kimmins, professor in the Faculty of Medicine’s Department of Pathology and Cell Biology

Translating knowledge into health policy

Can damaged sperm be repaired? Kimmins’ work with animals suggests damage caused by diet can be reversed, and her future studies will focus on the possibility of changing the male epigenome.

For now, her team is working with international partners to study how exposure to the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) affects the sperm epigenome. DDT was widely used for decades worldwide, but has been banned by the World Health Organization due to its adverse effects on human health.

“DDT increases the risk of congenital abnormalities and affects neurodevelopment, but is still allowed in countries like India and South Africa to combat malaria,” said Kimmins, who also serves as chair of the Canadian Society of Fertility and Andrology and is a member of an international working group on men's reproductive health. “There is also heightened exposure in northern Canada and Greenland due to weather patterns and ocean currents. Global warming may increase the number of people affected. We hope our research will help establish responsible health policies.”

A fresh start

Kimmins completed her studies at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and at the Institut de génétique et de biologie moléculaire et cellulaire in Strasbourg, France, and held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair at McGill University before joining the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology at UdeM’s Faculty of Medicine.

She welcomes the chance to work with new colleagues, explore new ideas and operate in a new environment.

 “Université de Montréal’s reproductive researchers have remarkable expertise, while the CHUM's research unit makes it an exceptional place to conduct translational research, ‘translating’ scientific findings into potential treatments," Kimmins said.

"It’s the best of both worlds.”

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