Discovery Could Improve Dismal IVF Success Rates

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Photo: Ted Horowitz/Corbis

In vitro fertilization can be a blessing for people who have trouble conceiving, but the numbers are far from encouraging. Experts estimate that anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of eggs fertilized for implantation have a chromosomal abnormality that either prevents them from developing into a pregnancy or could result in a miscarriageTypically, embryos need to be implanted within three to five days, but scientists may not be able to identify abnormalities until day five or six. It's not that surprising, then, that IVF success rates are around 30 to 35 percent worldwide and many couples go through multiple IVF cycles that cost several thousand dollars each. But researchers at Oregon Health & Science University and Stanford University think a new finding may be able to improve the chances of success.

For a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers observed 117 embryos from 19 couples. They found that by looking at a subset of 12 genes that are activated before the first cell division, they could predict chromosomal abnormalities within 30 hours instead of five to six days. This discovery would help doctors identify the healthiest embryos for implantation and could help increase overall IVF success rates. The authors say their prediction model isn't meant for clinical use, but it could lead to the development of diagnostic tools used by fertility doctors. While it's unclear exactly how much of an improvement this discovery could provide, any progress would be welcomed by hopeful parents.