Scientists in Australia and Belgium have developed an enhanced method of in-vitro maturation (IVM) that researchers hope will one day provide a more affordable option to couples seeking fertility treatment, without the need for hormone injections.
In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is a more common fertility treatment, in which women are given hormones to stimulate egg growth before they are removed from the ovaries and fertilised.
Researchers at UNSW, The University of Adelaide and Free University of Brussels have developed a new growth factor called Cumulin that allows eggs to be retrieved earlier than in IVF, and matured outside the womb.
One of the lead researchers on the project, UNSW Associate Professor Robert Gilchrist said it was an alternative treatment which may help eliminate drugs from infertility treatment.
“IVM has been around for a long time but it’s always been the poor cousin to IVF because the success rates are lower,” Associate Professor Gilchrist said. “What we’ve done here is noticeably improve the efficiency of IVM.
“Rather than treating the woman [with] large doses of hormones for several weeks — we’re taking an alternative approach which is to treat the egg in the laboratory instead.
50pc boost in number of embryos
The research, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, showed a doubling of embryos when performed on pig eggs.
Pre-clinical trials on human eggs resulted in a 50 per cent boost in the number of embryos compared to regular IVM, with minimal use of drugs.
“We initially did the experiments using pig eggs. And there we got an improvement in egg quality and a doubling in embryo yield,” Associate Professor Gilchrist said.
“We could have a promising technology in the very near future.”
The findings are being presented at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Reproductive Biology on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
The process is yet to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and requires extensive testing before it can undergo clinical trials and potentially result in human births.
Fertility specialist and Medical Director at IVF Australia, Peter Illingworth, welcomed what he described as exciting scientific research from world-class researchers.
But he urged caution — as IVM was not available as a current treatment option, and could take years to develop.
“At this stage it is not the answer to couples’ infertility problems,” he said.
“If in the future this technique does turn out to be both effective and safe, then undoubtedly it’ll make women’s lives easier not having to go through the injections.
Method may help women with limited time to retrieve eggs
Professor Roger Hart from the University of Western Australia is one of the few fertility experts to practice IVM in Australia.
He said the new, enhanced method may help a small percentage of women — for example cancer patients, who may have only a limited time to retrieve eggs.
“IVM is not an approach for all women who require fertility treatment … it offers a particular group of patients an alternative to IVF,” he said.
“If this addition of the growth factor will substantially improve their chances, that is a really exciting prospect and we are very happy to proceed forward with any sort of clinical studies.”
For Sydney woman Julie Mitchell, who endured seven failed IVF cycles before conceiving her daughter Millie using an egg donor, any advance in fertility treatment is welcome news.
“When you’re pumping hormones into your body to try and get pregnant it all adds up to being a bit scary,” she said.
“It’s going to be a lot better for women to have the choices.”
Professor Hart said he was hopeful the new method could be readily available to couples within “just a few years, rather than decades”.
Culled from http://www.abc.net.au/