Women seeking fertility treatment could do better using frozen embryos rather than fresh, suggests study

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UPDATED:

23:40 GMT, 3 September 2012

Women having fertility treatment might get better results by putting their embryos on ice, doctors said last night.

Normally in IVF, the embryos thought to have the best chance of resulting in a pregnancy are used in treatment a few days after they are made in a dish.

Any that are left over can be frozen to allow the woman to try again if the treatment isn’t successful or to add to her family in the future.

A technician working with frozen embryos: The process could be safer for mother and child

A technician working with frozen embryos: The process could be safer for mother and child

But there is growing evidence that it may be better for women having IVF – and their babies – if all embryos are frozen first.

A review of 11 studies from around the
world, involving more than 37,000 pregnancies, found frozen embryos to
be safer for mother and child.

Babies were around a third less likely
to be born small or premature and 20 per cent less likely to die in the
first days or weeks after birth.

Women who used frozen embryos were
around a third less likely to suffer complications such as bleeding in
pregnancy than those who used ‘fresh’ ones.

Researcher Abha Maheshwari, an IVF
consultant with NHS Grampian, said her results should help to allay
fears about the safety of freezing something as delicate as an embyro.

A human embryo at 40 days: Babies from frozen embryos were around a third less likely to be born small or premature

A human embryo at 40 days: Babies from frozen embryos were around a third less likely to be born small or premature

But they are counter-intuitive, as
doctors try to pick the highest-quality embryos for immediate use and
freeze those deemed second best.

Dr Maheshwari told the British Science
Festival in Aberdeen: 'We found pregnancies arising from the transfer
of frozen thawed embryos seem to have better outcomes both for mums and
babies when compared to those after fresh embryo transfer.

'Traditionally, it has been thought that fresh is always better and used as a first choice.'

It is not clear what is behind the
results but it may be that only the strongest embryos survive being
frozen for several months.

The delay caused by freezing may also
give the woman’s body – including the delicate lining of her womb – time
to recover from the powerful drugs given at the start of IVF treatment
to boost egg production.

Lengthening the time between
administering the drugs and pregnancy should also cut the odds of a
woman suffering ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, a potentially fatal
complication that can be triggered by fertility medication.

Other studies suggest a woman is roughly as likely to become pregnant from a frozen embryo as a fresh one.

But Dr Maheshwari said more research needed to be done before clinics were advised to freeze all embryos as a matter of course.

Factors to take into consideration
include some hospitals being better at freezing than others. In
addition, some women’s embryos may simply not survive the
cyropreservation, or freezing, process.

Peter Braude, emeritus professor of
women’s health at King’s College London, said the findings 'are
important in that they provide reassurance for cryopreservation
programmes about short-term outcome'.