Doctors have dramatically increased the success of IVF by creating laboratories which mimic conditions found inside the womb. The fertility experts have boosted a woman’s odds of pregnancy by up to 40 per cent simply by keeping lab conditions more similar to those inside a woman’s body.
The success of the technology, developed at Newcastle University, promises to reduce the financial cost of treatment, as well as the emotional heartache of repeatedly failing to become pregnant.
Despite some popular perceptions, IVF is far from fail-safe, with some women undergoing multiple courses costing between £3,000 and £15,000 to try to realise their dream of motherhood.
IVF is a multi-step process that culminates with the embryo being grown in an incubator for several days before being placed into the womb. However many steps, from the actual fertilisation of the egg to checks under the microscope, take place outside the incubator. This can lead to changes in temperature and air quality which can be potentially harmful to the embryo.
To get round this, experts at the Newcastle Fertility Centre created a ‘lab in box’, or a chain of interlinked incubators with in-built microscopes. This allows them to work with and examine the embryo without taking it out of the incubator.
Professor Mary Hebert, who helped draw up the system, said that while the concept is simple, it was difficult to come up with a design that allowed the delicate lab work to be done without taking the embryos out of the incubator.
She added: ‘Our aim was to keep eggs and embryos in conditions similar to those they would experience naturally inside a woman’s body. ‘This led our team to design and develop a system in which it is possible to perform all of the technical procedures while maintaining stable conditions throughout the IVF process.’
As a result, since installing the system in 2007, IVF success rates at the centre have soared. Pregnancy rates at the clinic have gone from between 32 and 35 per cent per session of IVF to 45 per cent – an increase of up to 40 per cent – and hundreds of babies have been born.
The data, published in the journal PLoS ONE applies to women aged 37 and under. A woman aged under 35 has a 32 per cent of giving birth per IVF attempt. The figure falls to 27 per cent in women aged between 35 and 37. Labs in the Netherlands, Canada and Thailand have all installed systems based on the Newcastle design.
Alison Murdoch, professor of reproductive medicine at Newcastle University, said: ‘Growing good embryos is the key to IVF success and everyone, even those with a very small prospect of success, deserves to have the best possible chance.
‘Since installing the technology over 850 babies have been born.’
The Newcastle Fertility Centre mainly does NHS work but some private patients are also treated. Dr Allan Pacey, a fertility expert at Sheffield University, said: ‘Any technical development that can improve the success rate of IVF should be given serious consideration.
‘This is a novel solution to the age-old problem of trying to control the environment in which embryos are grown during IVF. ‘Whilst different units around the world tackle this problem in different ways, we will see whether this development becomes a popular choice now that it has been the subject of scientific evaluation.
Article: 1st March 2012 www.dailymail.co.uk
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