A successful trial of an enhanced method for enabling infertile women to have children, without the cost and side-effects associated with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), has been presented at a conference in Australia.
An estimated 5 million children have been born around the world using IVF. Around the time of IVF’s invention, an alternative technology, known as in-vitro maturation (IVM), was developed. IVM avoids the follicle-stimulating hormones used in IVF, bypassing many unpleasant side-effects and much of IVF’s costs. Nevertheless, IVM’s lower success rate has seen it largely ignored in much of the world, but around 5,000 babies have been born as a result of this technique, mostly in East Asia and Scandinavia.
IVM involves collecting immature eggs and bringing them to maturity in cell culture. A year ago, Dr Robert Gilchrist of the University of New South Wales published the results of a study on an improved version of IVM in pigs, in which he demonstrated a doubling of the rate of conceptions compared to traditional methods.
At the annual meeting of the Australian Society for Reproductive Biology, Gilchrist announced the results of the first human trial of his technique, showing a 50 percent improvement compared to traditional IVM. Gilchrist told IFLScience the difference probably lies in the fact that the pigs used in the experiment were young and healthy, while the human trial was done on infertile patients, most of whom were older and often carrying ovarian cysts.
The key to Gilchrist’s improved success rate is the application of the growth factor cumulin and the signaling molecules known as cAMP-modulators to immature eggs. Cumulin is a protein formed from two components released by the growing egg. It was simultaneously discovered by Gilchrist and an independent American-based team.
“The aim of our research has been to restore as far as possible, the natural processes that occur during egg maturation,” Gilchrist said in a statement.
The human trial of the enhanced IVM technique is being considered by regulatory authorities, and consequently is not yet clinically available. If it is accepted, it will offer infertile women an alternative option to IVF. The success rate for the trial was close to, but still lower than, best-practice IVF.
Consequently, Gilchrist told IFLScience he does not expect enhanced IVM to replace IVF, but to “provide another alternative”. He added: “The significant factor is cost, because IVM avoids the drugs, the monitoring, and the ultrasounds. If some IVMs are conducted instead of IVFs, it could save both the patients and [medical funding agencies] a lot of money.”
Gilchrist added that follow-up studies of babies born as a result of traditional IVM show they are “at least as healthy” as those conceived through IVF, and that egg collection is no more invasive.