Old-style IVF revives dream of motherhood as women turn their backs on newer methods
01:44 GMT, 10 March 2012
Back to basics: Research has shown that a higher percentage of older women became pregnant by using an early method of IVF
An older form of IVF has helped women who had given up hope of having their own genetic children become mothers after all.
The women, who were close to menopause, had been told their only chance was to use donor eggs, a method that would have meant their child had someone else’s genes.
Instead, doctors tried a drug-free or low-drug IVF technique, similar to the one used in the earliest days of IVF.
One London clinic has a 16 per cent success rate with this method. The result is regarded as extraordinary as it involves women as old as 44 who had been told to give up on their dream of having a child with their own eggs.
Its success lies in an early method of IVF not often used in clinics today.
When Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, was conceived 35 years ago, one egg was allowed to develop naturally, before being removed and fertilised in the lab.
But today, most fertility doctors give women multiple injections of a hormone called FSH to boost the number of eggs they produce and so their chances of becoming pregnant.
Some believe this approach to be counter-productive, particularly in the case of older women. With these women, they say it is a case of ‘less is more’, with gentle handling optimising the odds of pregnancy.
They warn that the powerful drugs used to boost egg production can cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome – a potentially fatal condition in which the ovaries struggle to cope with the extra eggs released.
The jabs of FSH used to boost egg production are also expensive and account for at least 1,000 of the 3,500 charged for IVF.
Doing without them would cut costs for the tens of thousands who have fertility treatment each year. Geeta Nargund, of the Create fertility clinic in London, is one of a handful of doctors to use natural cycle IVF, in which no FSH is used, or modified natural-cycle IVF, in which low doses are given.
Improving the odds: Thirty per cent of the women aged between 40 and 42 treated with the old method in 2011 became pregnant
In 2011, 30 per cent of the women aged between 40 and 42 treated this way became pregnant. And 16 per cent of the 56 women who had been told that their only option was to find an egg donor are due to have babies. Although this is lower than the success rate for using donor eggs, the children will be genetically their own.
Dr Nargund, who is also head of reproductive medicine at St George’s Hospital in London, attributes the success to improvements in the ultrasound scans used to track egg production. Techniques used in the lab have also improved, meaning there is less need to collect lots of eggs in the hope that one will take.
Dr Nargund, who plans to submit her results to a medical journal, said: ‘When quality is high, there is less of a need for quantity.’
Professor Bill Ledger, a former Sheffield University fertility specialist, warned that clinics anxious to obtain high success rates may ‘push’ women towards egg donation too quickly.
He said: ‘What is important is to make plans that recognise the wishes of the couple – some will want to go for high-dose IVF straight away while others will want a less “successful” but more acceptable approach.’