Safer IVF is on the way

Twelve babies have been born after researchers tested a new, safer way of stimulating ovulation for women undergoing IVF.

Scientists from Imperial College London and doctors at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust worked together to trial the technique. They recruited 53 women who were healthy but experiencing infertility, and injected them with the adorably-named natural hormone kisspeptin to encourage their eggs to mature.

This was instead of the usual IVF protocol, which involves the use of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced during pregnancy. This carries health risks, causing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) in around a third of women who have IVF. This is usually relatively mild, causing sickness and nausea, but 10% of patients will be severely affected, which can lead to kidney failure and even death.

Kisspeptin occurs naturally in women before they’re pregnant, stimulating the release of reproductive hormones. Whereas hCG, remains in the blood for a long time after an injection, kisspeptin is broken down more quickly by the body.

The women in the study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, had one injection of kisspeptin. Mature eggs developed in 51 out of the 53 participants, forty-nine of those had a fertilised embryo implanted in their uterus, and 12 became pregnant and carried their babies to term.

Although this was only a small sample, the results compare to standard IVF, so it could become more widespread in future. Professor Waljit Dhillo, who led the study, said: ‘We really need more effective natural triggers for egg maturation during IVF treatment, and the results of this trial are very promising.’

The researchers want to go on to trial the method for women with polycystic ovary syndrome, who are most at risk of OHSS.

Image via Lisa Rosarlo’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley