Last week Dr Samir Hamamah from the Montpellier University Hospital in France presented the findings of his investigation into cumulus cells at a meeting of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis International Society in Miami, Florida, US, indicating a possible way to improve IVF success rates.
The cumulus cell has a specialised role in nurturing the egg. The research looked at cumulus cells - or 'nursemaid' cells - to determine whether the relationship can provide any genetic markers to help to indicate the quality of the egg. Currently doctors can do little to determine which eggs will generate healthy embryos and biopsies taken from early stage embryos are relied on to determine whether the embryo is likely to result in a successful pregnancy.
The research team carried out their investigation on 30 women undergoing IVF by retrieving eggs and cumulus cells. The eggs were then fertilised and the quality inspected. The embryos were then examined in relation to their corresponding cumulus cell. The analysis of this experiment revealed that three genes were associated with the resultant quality of the embryo - BCL2L11 is involved in triggering cell death in response to abnormalities, PCK1 with energy production, and NFIB in regulating early processes in embryo development.
These findings open up the way for doctors to choose eggs for IVF by examining the genetic expression in their cumulus cells. Hamamah plans to confirm this method by comparing the rate of healthy pregnancies that result from this 'nursemaid' screening method, with unscreened IVF eggs.
Dr Simon Fishel, Managing Director of the UK's Care Fertility Clinics, said in response to these findings that 'trying to establish the importance of particular gene products in assessing embryo viability is very important', adding: 'Whether it will become a valuable clinical [tool] remains to be seen'.