The method, called 'mini-IVF', involves giving the drug Clomid, which is routinely used to stimulate egg production, at lower doses but for longer. The scientists behind the approach claim that this results in eggs of higher quality being harvested.
The scientists also say that a cycle of mini-IVF should have fewer side effects and could cost approximately half the amount of a conventional cycle.
In the study, fertility specialists compared pregnancy and birth rates of 520 women undergoing mini-IVF with those of 2,771 women having conventional treatment.
The women in the mini-IVF group all had few viable eggs left in their ovaries – a condition known as 'low ovarian reserve' – and were often over 40 years old. The women who had conventional treatment had normal ovarian reserve.
Despite the lack of 'like-for-like' comparison, the scientists reported that for women under 35 pregnancy rates were higher in the conventional group (50 percent of women), than in the mini-IVF group (41 percent). However, for women 43 years old or older, pregnancy rates in the mini-IVF group were superior to the conventional IVF group (22 percent versus 5.5 percent).
The researchers also reported that the side effects associated with conventional IVF, including headaches and nausea, were not seen at all.
Dr Sherman Silber, of the Infertility Centre of St Louis in the USA, was the first author on the study and helped develop the method. He told the The Telegraph: 'This is a very significant breakthrough; it was amazing to see the results, especially in women over the age of 40'.
The results were presented at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Boston. The published article does not specify the numbers of women in each of the age categories compared between groups and gives no indication as to whether the differences in pregnancy rates observed were statistically significant.
Professor Geeta Nargund, a gynaecologist from the London fertility clinic Create, who also promotes less drug-intensive IVF, but was not involved with this study, told the Daily Mail: 'This study is a valuable addition to the growing evidence that mild stimulation IVF needs to become the first choice in IVF clinics for many women'.
Also speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Silber claimed mini-IVF 'would save an incredible amount of money' were it more widely adopted.
Currently, a conventional cycle of IVF costs between £3,000 and £4,000, and mini-IVF would be expected to cost between £1,200 and £1,800 if carried out privately.