A NEW fertility technique has been proven to improve pregnancy rates at a much lower cost than IVF and with fewer hormone drugs.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide in South Australia in collaboration with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and UZ Brussel at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium (UVB) have developed a new method of in-vitro maturation (IVM) that uses growth factors to increase success rates.
Co-developer Jeremy Thompson said the new IVM cycle would be cheaper and safer than other popular methods such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) with a stronger success rate than current IVM models.
He said the improved method posed fewer side effects and would reduce treatment timelines.
“The thing that hampered the application or uptake of IVM to date has been the reduced performance relative to IVF – what our work is doing is bringing that performance up to the level of IVF development rates for embryos,” Professor Thompson said.
“In a normal IVF cycle it is necessary to enable a number of mature eggs that are collected at one surgical operation. IVM is a technique where we still have to recover the eggs but we can do it faster and with a lot less hormones – only about 10 per cent of the hormones that are used in a normal IVF cycle.
“In a normal IVF cycle, dependent on where you are in the world, the drugs cost about a third to half of the cost of the IVF cycle.”
Standard IVM methods involve the retrieval of eggs at an immature stage and a maturation process that takes place in a laboratory setting.
The new IVM method is then enhanced by the combination of cumulin (a growth factor discovered by the research team) and cAMP-modulators that are added to the eggs.
IImage courtesy of UZ Brussel, VUB
Follicle stimulating hormones used in standard IVF cycles have been known to cause significant discomfort and can be harmful to women with a high sensitivity to them. This is often the case for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
In contemporary methods, these follicles are normally harvested when they reach about 15mm but in the new treatment they are collected at about 5mm.
Professor Thompson said the ability to harvest the eggs at an earlier stage allowed for a shorter time period before a patient was involved.
“This (new technique) results in a 50 per cent improvement in embryo yield compared to the standard IVM,” Prof Thompson said.
“It’s a significant improvement and it is very hard to make more and better quality embryo’s under any scenario.”
Professor Thompson said the method would also be highly beneficial for fertility preservation in cancer patients.
“Because IVM treatment requires virtually no hormones and is a far less truncated treatment, it is ideal to use with young women and girls that require their eggs to be harvested prior to chemotherapy or radiation treatment,” he said.
“You’re collecting the vital eggs before the treatment and IVM allows you to do this quite rapidly.”
Professor Thompson said clinical trials for the enhanced IVM treatment were still being planned and would begin within the next few years.
Head of the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of New South Wales William Ledger said the new IVM method could reduce the drop-out rate of patients.
“Almost everyone we see now is working full time so that is a major inconvenience in terms of having to take time off of work. And the blood tests and scans are an added burden,” he said.
“There has been plenty of research showing that the major reason that women drop out from having more than one IVF cycle is the emotional and physical burden of treatment. In contrast, the IVM process is over in just a few days.”
The study titled Cumulin, an oocyte-secreted heterodimer of the transforming growth factor-β family, is a potent activator of granulosa cells and improves oocyte quality was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
The findings will be presented today in Australia at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Biology on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders University, University of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.