Scientist, Ohana Bioscience
City of Boston recognition for outstanding academic achievements 2017
UMass Final Innovation Challenge 2017
UMass Seed Pitch 2016
Hong Fellowship Award 2016
NIH Travel Award 2016
by April M. Crehan
From a young age, Felipe Navarrete was fascinated by the science of reproduction.
“Since I was a child when I was back home in Colombia, I used to see how people did artificial insemination on cattle,” he said. “They always were claiming that they had a bad rate of offspring for the amount of sperm they were putting in.”
Navarrete carried that fascination into his studies at UMass Amherst, saying, “it gave me all the tools to discover so many cool things about reproduction that I never thought about.”
Navarrete currently works at Ohana Biosciences in Cambridge; he studies the changes sperm undergo en route to the oocyte and the prevention of diseases before fertilization. This research is related to his Ph.D. dissertation on how calcium ionophores (molecules that reversibly bind ions, helping them cross membranes) impact sperm capacitation in mouse models. The manipulation of the sperm state can overcome the need for calcium channels, he explained, and thus improve sperm motility and in vitro fertilization rates.
In early 2017, Navarrete and his group won group second place in the UMass Innovation Challenge with their “Star Sperm” project, which improved mouse fertility from 0 to 90 percent. “Right now, we are in the stage of giving the technology to other people in academia to test to see if there is reproducibility,” he said—thankfully, there is.
“This ionophore treatment is already showing that it works in different models,” said Navarrete: cow and horse models are two of the next steps.
Humans will eventually be on that list.
“People who are fertile don’t think that [infertility] is a disease but it is a disease that can destroy families, it can destroy relationships,” said Navarrete. “I feel happy to be able to help couples.”