An IVF method using an in-body incubator is safe and effective, research presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine annual meeting shows.
The developers of the INVOcell - an embryo incubator inserted into the woman's vagina - say their invention would also reduce IVF costs by dispensing with the tightly controlled artificial environments currently used.
However, the study was a very small one, involving only 33 women, and it has yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal.
'One reason assisted reproduction is limited is because of cost, and part of that is the incubation systems we use which are complex devices that require calibration and daily quality control checks,' said study author Dr Kevin Doody, co-founder of a Texas fertility clinic and shareholder for the company behind INVOcell. 'We think we've been able to simplify the IVF process to require minimal monitoring with a high pregnancy rate.'
The 33 women in the study were divided into two groups: one receiving conventional IVF, the other using the INVOcell. For both groups, eggs and sperm were retrieved from the prospective parents and brought together in a Petri dish. For the conventional IVF group, the Petri dish was incubated in a traditional IVF incubator that regulates the environment. For the INVOcell group, the cells were placed in the device, and placed in the women's vaginas for five days.
The resulting embryos from the two groups were assessed as being of similar quality. Ultimately, 10 out of 16 women in the conventional IVF group, compared to 10 out of 17 women in the INVOcell group, reported pregnancies at or beyond 20 weeks.
The cost savings from the INVOcell are unclear as Dr Doody's study used other methods, such as decreasing the level of (and number of checks during) ovarian stimulation, to reduce the overall cost.
Logically, though, incubating eggs and sperm in this way would reduce the need for expensive incubators. In addition, Dr Doody thinks the method might have psychological benefits, as fertilisation would happen when the INVOcell is placed inside the women's bodies. However, no research has been done on this hypothesis yet.
'My impression is: "Wow, this is really interesting stuff",' Dr Timothy Hickman, chief of reproductive endocrinology at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, who was not involved in the study, told WebMD. 'IVF tends to be a highly complex process and here's a novel way to try to provide something for a certain population that can benefit. This is never going to replace an IVF lab, but maybe for a certain population it may work out right.'