17 May 2013
A revolutionary new technique could boost success rates of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Doctors from the CARE Fertility Group, who developed the groundbreaking procedure, have said that it could treble live birth rates for couples using IVF.
IVF treatment is available for women who have struggled to become pregnant after a year of trying, the standard definition of infertility. It can be used to combat damaged fallopian tubes (as was its original purpose), sperm disorders and endometriosis. The procedure takes donated sperm and uses it to fertilise eggs in a petri dish. Once the eggs are fertilised, they become embryos and are placed in a climate-controlled incubator to promote growth.
Using traditional methods, experts remove embryos from an incubator and check on progress once a day. The new time-lapse procedure monitors embryo growth from within the controlled environment, and allows specialists to capture images every ten to 20 minutes. By compiling an extensive sequence of images (up to 5,000 are taken), doctors can effectively monitor growth and classify embryos into high, medium and low risk categories according to their likelihood of defects.
The new method could reduce the risk of miscarriage and minimise emotional trauma caused by multiple failed treatments. In short, it could transform the way couples deal with infertility.
Professor Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group, said: “In the 35 years I have been in this field this is probably the most exciting and significant development that can be of value to all patients seeking IVF. This technology can tell us which embryo is the most viable and has the highest potential to deliver a live birth - it will have huge potential. This is almost like having the embryo in the womb with a camera on them.”
Trials show that 78 per cent of women who utilised the time-lapse method successfully conceived and are on-track to have a healthy child. This rate is nearly three times the typical IVF success rate, which is usually around 26 per cent.
Although experts are excited about the new procedure and its potential for success, they want to avoid over-exciting patients. The results are compelling and could transform IVF treatment as a whole, but CARE experts tested time-lapse imaging on less than 100 embryos. Chairman of the British Fertility Society, Dr Allan Pacey, said larger trials of the time-lapse technology are needed. He said: “All too often developments in IVF are trumpeted as advances when they remain unproven.”
Dr Virginia Bolton from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said: “These results are very interesting but this is a very small study and any interpretation of the findings must be made with caution as we are dealing with the hopes and expectations of patients.”
Martin Johnson, co-editor of Reproductive BioMedicine Online, which published CARE Fertility Group’s findings, agreed with Dr Bolton: “This is a significant advance, but it is one which still needs more work.”
If further research verifies CARE’s provisional findings, the new method may soon be adopted by fertility clinics throughout the UK. Already, it’s been made available at some private and NHS facilities.
Posted by Philip Briggs
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