A new method for genetic screening of IVF embryos to identify healthy ones for implantation in the mother has been made public following the birth of the first baby born after use of the approach.
The low success rate of IVF is largely attributed to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryos, which result in failure to implant or early miscarriage. The frequency of these abnormalities rises sharply with increasing maternal age and may explain much of the infertility that leads older women to seek fertility treatment.
New approaches to allow genetic screening of embryos produced in vitro to ensure that only healthy embryos are selected for implantation have already shown improvements in rates of conception and livebirths (see previous news). The new technique developed at Oxford University is reportedly similarly rapid, producing results within 24 hours thanks to the use of advanced genome sequencing, and at a somewhat lower price (perhaps two thirds of current prices). Lauded as a ‘powerful proof of concept’, researchers say that clinical trials are now needed to demonstrate how effective it is at improving IVF success rates.
The baby born following a single round of IVF using the genetic screening technique was one of just three out of the thirteen embryos produced that were found to be healthy. Test developer Dr Dagan Wells observed: "This isn't going to solve the problem of reproductive ageing, as a couple in their early 40s may find they have no healthy embryos from which to choose”, but it could improve birth rates among younger women, and allow storage of only healthy embryos for potential future implantation.
Comment: Developments in genetic screening hold great promise to improve success rates for IVF, reducing costs as well as the heartache that failure causes for couples. If recent news of a novel and substantially cheaper technique for some forms of IVF prove robust, then its use in combination with genetic screening could result in a sharp fall in costs at the same time as results improve. Belgian researchers claim the new IVF approach could produce equivalent results to current techniques for less than 15% of current costs of at least £5,000 per cycle. Given demographic changes in countries such as the UK, where the average maternal age has risen steadily in recent years (as have IVF rates), this could have a significant impact.