IVM involves removing immature eggs from a patient, which are then matured in the laboratory before implantation. The procedure does not require the patient to take as many drugs as conventional IVF, where patients are given hormone injections to mature the eggs before they are removed for fertilisation. These hormone injections can be expensive, accounting for about half of the total cost of treatment and can also cause side effects in some patients, some of which can be serious.
IVM, which may be recommended for patients at risk of OHSS or where only male infertility has been identified, requires fewer hormone treatments than conventional IVF and has been described as a cheaper, less invasive and potentially quicker method of fertility treatment. However, IVM's uptake in the clinic has been hampered by its low success rates, which are only about half that of IVF, reports New Scientist.
In the latest study, presented at the Society of Reproductive Biology's conference in Queensland, researchers from Australia and Belgium announced a new method that can improve the fertilisation rate of eggs obtained by IVM. They showed that treating immature human eggs with a compound called cumulin and the signalling molecule cAMP increased IVM's fertilisation success rate from 40 percent to 61 percent.
Dr Jeremy Thompson of the University of Adelaide, who took part in the research, said: 'This [new technique] results in a 50 percent improvement in embryo yield compared to the standard IVM. It's a significant improvement and it is very hard to make more and better quality embryos under any scenario.'
Cumulin is produced by the egg itself and made up of two growth factors involved in egg maturation (GDF9 and BMP15). It was first identified by Dr Robert Gilchrist at the University of New South Wales, who was also involved in this current research. Eggs that were given the compound were more likely to mature than those treated with the two growth factors separately.
Explaining the use of cumulin, Dr Gilchrist said: 'The aim of our research has been to restore as far as possible, the natural processes that occur during egg maturation. We have demonstrated that it is possible to improve egg quality and embryo yield with next to no drugs, using potent growth factors produced by the egg.'
No embryos resulting from this new method have been implanted into patients yet and the researchers are currently conducting tests to determine the health of any embryos produced. If these tests are successful, clinical trials could begin next year.