Ever since the first in vitro fertilization baby was conceived in 1977, people have been seeking IVF help as a means to overcome fertility issues. Though the process has helped bring more than five million babies into the world, and into the loving arms of their intended parents, it’s not without difficulty. Women who undergo the procedure must submit to extensive hormonal treatments, putting their faith and hope into the fact that they might conceive afterward. An average woman has, at most, a 35-percent chance of getting a positive pregnancy test in any given in vitro fertilization cycle. For hundreds of thousands of women every year, this is enough to provide hope, but researchers have just uncovered two simple things that will improve these odds drastically.
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The in vitro fertilization process, in concept, is quite simple. Doctors perform tests to ensure a woman is producing eggs, and she will then take medications to help stimulate ovulation. Many eggs are usually produced, but this is dependent upon how the woman’s body responds to the medications. She may release only a single egg or she may produce more than ten. Naturally, doctors hope for more, because this means that they can increase the odds of having a successful cycle. All the eggs produced are withdrawn, in a process called egg retrieval. Following this, they are separated from the fluid and introduced to sperm, which may come from an intended parent, the woman’s partner, or a donor. The fertilization may be allowed to occur on its own, with the strongest sperm reaching the egg, or doctors may inject sperm into the egg. Then, they are placed in an incubator and monitored for health prior to transferring to the mother or gestational surrogate’s womb.
Until recently, doctors had no tools that would help them assess the viability of an egg, which is one of the greatest predictors of the outcome of an in vitro fertilization cycle. They can, and do, evaluate the embryos for health. Visually, they can verify that it’s symmetrical and appears healthy. Tests can also be performed to see if a chromosomal abnormality is present. However, these don’t necessarily help the doctors assess whether the egg is viable or not, which is why the new scientific developments are huge news.
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Researchers at Stanford published a recent study that indicated something as simple as the “squishiness” of the egg can determine whether it’s viable and will result in the birth of a healthy baby. At this point, their tests have only been conducted on mice, but they expect the details to carry over. By using a small pipette and applying slight pressure to a recently fertilized egg, researchers could measure the “push back.” They learned that the more rigid eggs often did not result in a well-formed blastocyst and they could predict the results 90-percent of the time. By choosing only the squishier eggs, doctors could improve the live birth rates by 50-percent.
Researchers from Northwestern University have been working at it from another angle. Several years ago, it was discovered that a brief flash of light occurs when an egg and sperm meet. The brighter the flash, the more viable the egg is. Now, the same phenomenon has been observed in humans.
“We discovered the zinc spark just five years ago in the mouse, and to see the zinc radiate out in a burst from each human egg was breathtaking,” says Professor Teresa Woodruff. “This means if you can look at the zinc spark at the time of fertilization, you will know immediately which eggs are the good ones to transfer in in vitro fertilization.”
While these developments may seem small, they could potentially raise the success rate of in vitro fertilization to more than 70-percent. Unfortunately, the methods discussed here are still in the research stages, so it could be years before they become standard operating procedures for doctors.
IVF4Everyone is an agency dedicated to helping people obtain the resources they need in order to undergo in vitro fertilization treatments. This includes educational information, details on how to obtain free IVF or funding, and more.
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