Project team

SEARMET project team members are:

Ülle Jaakma, PhD, is an expert in gamete biology, embryotechnology and sperm quality testing. Initiator of the development of new semen testing methods and introduction of sexed semen in Estonia. She has been twice awarded a national science award for the research on the field of embryotechnology and animal reproduction. Experience in leading research projects (the target financed projects and Estonian Science Foundation grants, subprojects at the CCHT, collaborative applied projects, industrial projects).

Alireza Fazeli, PhD, is the professor of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine in Sheffield University. Alireza Fazeli has extensive experience in application of different genomics, proteomics and epigenomics techniques to the study of maternal communication with gametes and embryo. He is an expert in utilization of different in vitro and in vivo models in investigation of implantation process with vast experience on understanding how innate immune system is modulated in the female reproductive tract.

Poul Hyttel, DVM, PhD, DVSc, Dhc, is the Director of BrainStem and a coordinator of several larger research programs. Hyttel is also the PI of the project Genomic Improvement of Fertilization Traits in Danish and Brazilian Cattle (GIFT), which is of great importance for the present project.


Lotte Strøbech, DVM, PhD affiliate associate professor at Copenhagen University and CSO in EmbryoTrans Biotech, a global bovine IVF media development company for IVF Bioscience, UK as well as a private partner in the Danish-Brazilian GIFT.

Jan Ole Bertelsen Secher, DVM, has worked in clinical practice for 4 years after finishing his master. During his PhD his main interest was within In vitro fertilization, early embryology and pluripotent stem cells. Jan has worked with porcine oocyte activation and manipulation of early embryos. One of the publications from his PhD was on 3D imaging of porcine blastocysts. At the moment he is working with bovine IVF and genomic and transcriptomic analysis of the embryos.

William Holt, PhD, part from being a Visiting Professor at the University of Sheffield he has been awarded three Honorary Professorships by (1) the Royal Veterinary College, London (2) the University College London and (3) the University of Bedfordshire. Holt is also an Honorary Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘Center for Species Survival’ in Washington DC. He became Head of the Reproductive Biology group at the Institute of Zoology in 1995 and retained that position until the end of September 2011 when the research group was closed.His research has focused on the methods for the assessment and preservation of gametes, especially spermatozoa, in a variety of species.


Lisa Thurston obtained her PhD entitled “An investigation into sources of variation and the genetic basis of boar spermatozoa survival following cryopreservation”, in 2000. During her graduate research, Lisa trained in the industrial laboratories of Sygen International (then PIC) at the University of Cambridge, UK and at Berkeley, University of California, USA. In 2000, Lisa moved to University College, London, UK where she investigated the “Association between cortisol metabolism in the human ovary and the clinical outcome of in vitro fertilisation-embryo transfer”. In 2001, she began working at the Royal Veterinary College, London, UK on the “Hormonal and Cellular Regulation of Glucocorticoid Metabolism in the Bovine Ovary”. In 2003, Lisa accepted a Lectureship at the Royal Veterinary College where Lisa’s research group continues to investigate the biochemistry and molecular biology of both spermatozoa and ovarian tissues. In 2016, Lisa joined the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine at the University of Sheffield, UK where she is currently investigating the role of extracellular vesicles in gamete-maternal tract communication.


Sulev Kõks, PhD, MD. Professor of pathophysiology University of Tartu. Sulev Kõks has wide experience in genomics, RNA-sequencing, gene expression analysis and in genome-wide association studies. His research interest is in the genomics of psoriasis, genomics of bone diseases and Parkinsonism. In addition, he studies the mechanism of Wolfram syndrome and the function of wfs1 gene in the ER stress. He has lead the group that performed Estonian first successful somatic cell nuclear transfer in cattle. Sulev has developed several transgenic mouse models for human diseases. Reproducible research and tools to achieve reproducible research are in his more general focus. Sulev Kõks has published more than 200 publications, these have been cited 3131 times and his h-index is 31.


Hector Pagan, project coordinator. He has taught public policy and administration at the University of Tartu since 2007. He has 20 years of experience managing different projects in Estonia and New York. Hector Pagan also has nearly twenty years of experience working with civil society /third sector organizations in the United States and Estonia from various fields including energy management, environmental science and social services (housing, ex-prisoners, domestic violence).

Andres Reilent, DVM - veterinarian at the EMÜ Productive Animal clinic, where he teaches practical and theoretical aspects of veterinary work to veterinary medicine students. He is also part of the Reproductive Biology departments OPU and embryo transfer team.

Andres Valdmann, DVM, MSc, DVetSc – professor of animal endocrinology at EMU, expert in dairy cattle fertility, endocrinology, immunoassay methodology. Has generaterd monoclonal antibodies (MAb) to progesterone and developed a MAb based enzyme immunoassay for milk progesterone which is internationally recognized as a gold standard and a research tool in studying reproductive function in dairy, beef and zebu cows  

Has developed a device which enables to collect cytological, bacteriological and uterine secretion samples primarily from the endometrium of cows with the aim of detecting inflammations and studying uterine microbiota (EP2029026B1). Experience in leading institutional grant on bovine reproduction and health, Estonian Science Foundation grants, applied research projects.​

Triin Hallap, DVM, PhD – researcher, doctoral thesis “Assessment of Sperm Attributes of Frozen-thawed AI Doses from Swedish and Estonian Dairy Bull Sires with Special Reference to Pre-selection Through Swimup, and the Influence of Age on Potential Fertility” was defended at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in 2005. Expert in sperm viability testing, male fertility, application of colloid centrifugation for the sperm selection, sperm proteomics.

Jevgeni Kurykin, DVM, PhD – researcher, specialist in reproductive veterinary medicine, head of the licenced embryo collection team at EMU, main fields of research include bovine reproductive pathology and reproductive biotechnology. He has introduced transvaginal ovarian puncture and aspiration of oocytes from the ovarian follicles in cows in Estonia. He has been a principal investigator in the studies on efficiency of sex-sorted semen and has produced first pregnancies after the transfer of in vivo embryos of desired sex.

Elina Mark PhD student, her topic of the research: „Viability and Metabolomics of Bovine In Vitro Produced Embryos“, Estonian University of Life Sciences, Institute of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences, Department of Reproductive Biology. Supervisors: Ülle Jaakma (EMU), Kalle Kilk (TU). Profile of the research: Biotechnologies in Animal Reproduction; Embryology; In Vitro Production of Bovine Embryos.

Hannelore Kiiver MSc (animal science), PhD student in EMÜ.

Aili Tagoma, (PhD) Research fellow of reproductive immunology. Main field of research include immune mechanisms in female infertility and mammalian reproduction as well as next generation sequencing. I have studied IVF procedure failure in relation to the presence of endometrial autoantibodies and deviations in the humoral components of the follicular fluid. Additionally I have studied biomarkers for oocyte and embryo quality in IVF and intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

Pille Pärn, Research Fellow, molecular biology, cell biology.

Marilin Ivask, works in the department of pathopysiology at University of Tartu and is also a PhD student there. Her studies are focused on the mechanism of Wolfram syndrome and the function of Wfs1 gene. In addition she works with bovine reproductive biology and somatic cell nuclear transfer at the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

Peeter Padrik, Research Fellow, PhD student, spermatology, andrology, artificial insemination.

Monika Nõmm, she is a Junior Research Fellow and PhD student in the department of reproductive biology at the Estonian University of Life Sciences. She specializes in bovine in vitro embryo production and has also experience as an European project manager her PhD topic is related to in vitro production of dairy cattle embryos.

From February 2018 she is working as SEARMET project assistant.

Esta Nahkur PhD Lecturer, anatomy of domestic animals.
Katri Hellat, chief specialist, Research and Development Department