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New form of IVF `better than nature'

steptoe & ROBERTS

SCIENTISTS HAVE unveiled a new form of IVF which they claim is ``better than nature'' at getting some women pregnant and does not need high doses of potentially harmful hormones.

The method, which involves harvesting immature eggs and growing them outside the body, reduces the need to pump women with hormones to mature the eggs internally.

It has resulted in 400 healthy babies in Denmark and won the backing of Bob Edwards, the British scientist behind the first test-tube baby.

In vitro maturation (IVM) could drastically cut the risk of side effects for the mother and reduce the drug bill, which in the U.K., is mostly met by the patients.

Although the method has been discussed for years, the Danish doctors were the first to use it successfully on a large scale and track the results.

A healthy 30-year-old woman who has regular periods has a 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant through intercourse each month, but the group who received the new treatment had a success rate of 30 per cent, they found.

Egg removal

The eggs are removed from the woman's ovaries before they are fully developed, then small quantities of hormones are applied in the laboratory to mature them.

They are then fertilised before being implanted back in the woman's womb, as in regular IVF. The treatment avoids the need to give women hormones to help them produce extra eggs, and then more to get them all matured internally.

Svend Lindenberg, the Danish professor at the Nordic Fertility Centre in Copenhagen, which is testing the method, said: ``The doctor now has a tool ... which can minimise the risks involved in IVF. We now have a more comfortable treatment for women and we haven't seen any problems in any of the babies who have been born as a result.''

He added: ``If you have a 30-year-old woman who menstruates regularly she will conceive every five months. That's a 20 per cent chance. With this method some women will have a 30 per cent chance.

For women who were eligible for the treatment the success rate is better than what you can expect naturally.''

Professor Edwards, who in 1978 helped to create the world's first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, has called for a rethink of IVF to capitalise on less aggressive treatment, including IVM.

Rapid development

Speaking at the same conference, he said the improved IVM techniques were developing so rapidly that they could make IVF ``very different in a year or two''.

Traditional IVF drugs can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome in around 5 per cent of women.

The symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling as the ovaries go into overdrive and produce too much fluid. In 1 per cent to 2 per cent of women undergoing IVF the fluids leak into the abdomen and can cause thrombosis.

The new technique is only beneficial for about 12 per cent of women seeking IVF who are under 37 and have particular fertility problems, which mean they produce lots of eggs but still fail to get pregnant.

But this group includes women who have polycystic ovary syndrome and those most at risk of side effects.

Past experiments

Previous attempts at IVM have been less successful because it was offered to all women and used different techniques, including less hospitable solutions in the Petri dish where the eggs are fertilised.

Some scientists in the U.K. urged caution. Professor Alison Murdoch, of the internationally respected Newcastle Fertility Centre, said: ``IVM will be a fantastic thing to achieve but it won't be suitable for all women. There are still uncertainties. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007

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4th January 2007, 16:00
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