Here’s some promising news for the countless couples pursuing in vitro fertilization: Researchers are now able to pinpoint chromosomal abnormalities in human embryos before IVF takes place—as early as the first 30 hours of development, according to a new paper released in Nature Communications.
Advancements in fertility science
With the help of computer-assisted mathematical modeling, the scientists—based at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Stanford University, the University of Valencia, and IGENOMIX—observed 117 human zygotes from 19 different couples to measure the activity of hundreds of genes at the earliest stage of development. Essentially, the viability of what’s cooking in an IVF petri dish can now be determined fairly soon after the egg and sperm unite and well before implantation occurs.
“Chromosomal abnormalities are one of the main factors contributing to IVF failure,” Shawn L. Chavez, Ph.D., a co-author, assistant scientist in the Division of Reproductive and Developmental Sciences at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at OHSU, and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Physiology and Pharmacology, in the OHSU School of Medicine, told Fit Pregnancy. “Between 50 and 80% of human embryos created for IVF have one or more chromosomes affected at the early stages of development and typically will not develop into a pregnancy, but instead result in a miscarriage.”
Improving IVF success rates
The ability to quickly select the embryo with the best potential will benefit patients hoping to achieve baby-making success via IVF. Until now, success rates have hovered in the 30-35% range as specialists have needed five or six days to identify the healthiest embryo, which is after they’re implanted in the mother.
“It is also our hope that these findings will help reduce the number of IVF cycles that a couple has to undergo before successfully conceiving as well as avoid the transfer of more than one embryo,” Chavez says. While some couples undergoing fertility treatments wouldn’t mind having twins or triplets, giving birth to multiples comes with risks, of course.
‘The first step’
Exactly when this new research will be applied to fertility clinics remains unclear, but Chavez says that more investigation needs to be done to further confirm the findings. “We consider the current study as the first step in this process,” she says, “with the hope that it will lead to the implementation of new diagnostic tools to reliably predict which embryos are the healthiest to implant for IVF and ensure a successful pregnancy.”
Given the enormous emotional, physical, and financial investment that comes with undergoing IVF, we hope this type of research is fast-tracked for the sake of couples trying to conceive.