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40 years of IVF: 3 advances in IVF that are helping more people to have a baby

An embryoscope used for time-lapse imaging of embryos
An embryoscope used for time-lapse imaging of embryos

Forty years ago on 25th July 1978, Louise Brown, the first baby in the world was born as a result of IVF. Now millions of babies later, IVF is a routine medical treatment offering hope to potential parents around the globe.

Whilst the basics of doing IVF have stayed the same, eggs are fertilised with sperm in a laboratory and fertilised embryos placed back into the womb, over the last nearly four decades the technique has evolved.  Costs have come down and the process itself has streamlined. Advances in both science and technology mean that we can help more people achieve their dream of having a child.  Three of the ways that IVF has evolved are discussed below: 

Vitrification

Vitrification has revolutionised our ability to successfully and reliably freeze gametes and embryos, whether to preserve fertility or to use in future IVF cycles. In contrast to older, slower freezing methods, this rapid freezing technique means that ice crystals don’t form during freezing. Ice crystals are a problem as they can lead to damage during the thawing process.  The American Society for Reproductive Medicine lifted the designation of “experimental” from the vitrification egg freezing process in 2012 in recognition of the similar success rates of using frozen eggs to using fresh eggs.

Genetic Screening

Having a child with a genetic condition can have a devastating impact on both the child and the family. Genetic testing can be used to increase the chance of having a healthy baby. If you know that you and/or your partners are carriers of a genetic condition e.g. cystic fibrosis then a technique called pre-implantation genetic testing for monogenetic disease (PGT-M) can be used to screen embryos for that specific mutation and enables only healthy embryos to be selected to put back.  This has enabled families to have biological children without passing on the condition rather than using donor eggs or sperm.

Pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidy (PGT-A) is a different kind of genetic screening. Rather than looking for a specific mutation, it checks that the chromosome number and appearance is correct.  This is particularly of benefit to older women as the number of mistakes found in the egg chromosomes increases as women age.  It can also be useful for patients who have had repeated IVF failures as it can reveal a genetic reason for miscarriages or failing to get pregnant. Again the screening enables the selection of embryos that appear normal, increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy and healthy baby.

Time-lapse imaging

All embryos will develop at slightly different rates and time-lapse imaging is a clever way of helping the embryologists figure out which embryo will give the best chance of a pregnancy.  By using a special microscope that takes lots of images (one every 20 minutes) as the embryo grows the embryologist can check that everything is happening normally and inspect the embryos without the need to disturb them.  When the embryos are developing at different rates they can use this information to select the one embryo that they think will have the best chance of successfully implanting in the uterus.

To find out more about how these techniques might benefit your treatment, please call 020 7563 4309 or complete our contact form

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