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'Energising' patients' eggs for ICSI has no effect

3 July 2018
By Shaoni Bhattacharya
Reporting from the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology's 2018 annual meeting in Barcelona
Appeared in BioNews 957

A controversial technique to 'super-charge' patients' eggs with the patients' own mitochondria does not improve assisted conception success rates, suggests a new study.

Dr Elena Labarta from the IVI clinic in Valencia, Spain, presented the pilot results from 57 patients with a poor fertility prognosis at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual conference in Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday.

'Unfortunately, the technique was not found useful for this type of patient, so we see no value for this patient population' said Dr Labarta.

The study examined the effects of a technique marketed as AUGMENT by US company OvaScience. Launched in 2014, this technique takes mitochondria from the egg precursor cells in a patient's own ovary and then micro-injects these mitochondria into the patient's egg, along with her partner's sperm, during ICSI.

The triple-blinded randomised study (the doctors, embryologists and patients were all unaware which embryos had undergone the procedure) compared rates of pregnancy and live births, as well as embryo quality, from eggs treated with ICSI alone versus eggs given extra mitochondria alongside ICSI.

'We could not find any differences in cumulative pregnancy outcomes between both groups,' said Dr Labarta. 'The live birth rate was absolutely comparable between both groups.'

Mr Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital in London, who not involved in the study, noted that this is a 'really important negative finding'.

The theory behind this technique, he said, is that the mitochondria – which act as cellular 'batteries' – may age, contributing to the decline in the quality of eggs known to occur with ageing.

But Mr Lavery noted that the technique 'relies on us being able to identify egg precursor cells'. The idea that such cells can be meaningfully identified is in itself controversial.

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