Some 70 per cent of Irish women who travel to the Barcelona clinic for fertility treatment are over 40 years of age, writes MICHELLE McDONAGH
A NEW assisted reproductive technique which analyses embryonic chromosomes is significantly increasing pregnancy rates in couples struggling with infertility, particularly older mothers.
The Fish technique, developed at the Institut Marquès in Barcelona, is now being applied to Preimplantational Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) to analyse all embryo chromosomes in a single cell and to identify which embryos derived from invitro fertilisation are healthy enough for transfer to the uterus of the woman.
The Institut Marquès is a tertiary care referral centre for the treatment of infertile couples worldwide and is popular with Irish couples who go abroad for fertility treatment. Some 123 Irish patients attended the centre for treatment in 2009 and the number of Irish couples they see is increasing by about 20 per cent each year.
According to Prof Juan G Álvarez, scientific director of Institut Marquès and professor at Harvard Medical School, 70 per cent of Irish women who travel to Barcelona for fertility treatment are over 40 years of age.
In the case of Irish couples seen at Institut Marquès, 64 per cent have male factor infertility and, in most cases, they have a genetic male factor that can be diagnosed by the Fish technique in semen or by the study of meiosis in testicular biopsy, he said.
Prof Álvarez will be presenting the findings of a study called Improved pregnancy rates in advanced maternal age carried out by Institut Marquès and the Centre for Embryo Medicine at the Fertility 2011 Congress which takes place in Dublin from January 5th-7th.
The Fish technique has been developed by Dr Esther Velilla, director of the Centre for Embryo Medicine and the ongoing study, which started over a year ago, involves couples from all over Europe, including Ireland and the UK.
Prof Àlvarez said: “We have analysed 72 cycles using the Fish technique which have resulted in 25 pregnancies. The babies born have been normal and healthy and several pregnancies are still ongoing.”
Until now, conventional techniques have analysed only nine chromosomes thought to be associated with infertility problems, but Prof Àlvarez explained that analysis of all 24 chromosomes allowed the detection of embryo anomalies that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
“I have been surprised that the difference in pregnancy rates has been so significant since we started analysing all of the chromosomes using the Fish technique.
“When we analyse 24 chromosomes, the overall pregnancy rate is increased to 49 per cent compared with 30 per cent when we analyse only nine. And when we focus only on cases of advanced maternal age where there are more likely to be chromosomal anomalies, the difference is even more striking, an increase in rates from 23 per cent to 64 per cent.”
Fertility 2011 is the 7th biennial conference of the UK Fertility Societies:the Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Fertility Society and the Society for Reproduction and Fertility. This year, the Irish Clinical Embryologists Association (ICE) and the Irish Fertility Society (IFS) are also supporting the event for the first time.
Over 400 experts in fertility, assisted conception, sexual health and reproductive biology are expected to attend the event which takes place in Dublin this week for the first time.