New IVF technique may spell the end of ‘test tube babies’

Good news for parents who have trouble conceiving, but don’t want their future children to be born out of a laboratory: Scientists have developed a new kind of in vitro fertilization (IVF) that makes it possible for doctors to implant an embryo directly into the mother’s womb.

The method uses an IVF device called AneVivio, and as BBC News and the Telegraph reported on Tuesday, it involves placing egg and sperm cells into a silicone capsule roughly the same size as a grain of rice. The capsule containing the healthiest embryo is then placed in the uterus.

“The introduction of this device signals a real breakthrough in IVF treatment, as it enables women to care for an embryo in its earliest stages of development for the first time,” Professor Nick Macklon, medical director at Complete Fertility Centre Southampton, told the Telegraph.

“That is important psychologically as it involves parents-to-be directly with the fertilization process and early embryo development, but, perhaps more importantly, it also could provide many potential health benefits for babies born following fertility treatment,” he added.

Macklon and his Complete Fertility colleagues are the first doctors to use the AneVivio device, which was previously tested in clinical trials involving approximately 250 women, according to reports. Those trials found that it achieved a success rate similar to that of conventional IVF.

New method could reduce genetic disorders in IVF children

The AneVivio capsule is just one centimeter long and one millimeter wide, and it was designed to reduce the amount of time that a growing embryo is artificially grown in a dish of culture fluid outside of the mother’s womb. Professor Macklon explained that the overall goal is to maximize the amount of time that a growing baby is able to spend in its mother’s body.

“The immediate benefit is reducing exposure at this very vulnerable time of human development when genes are being switched on and off,” he told BBC News. Previous research has reportedly suggested that growing embryos in a dish increases the risk of genetic or other health defects. It remains unclear if AneVivio will reduce those issues, but its developers are optimistic.

“Babies born following IVF treatment have been shown to have lower than normal birth weight and, although not initially a problem, we know there is a link between low birth weight and long-term health and the laboratory environment could play a part in this,” Macklon said. By using the new device, he and his colleagues believe that they can “reduce exposure to the synthetic culture fluids used in the laboratory and help to determine precisely what effect this may have.”

AneVivio has been approved by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HEFA), the UK body governing such devices, who found no evidence that it was ineffective or unsafe. However, it is currently only being used in private patients, as it has not yet been approved by the NHS because the nearly $1,000 (£700) technique has yet to be proven to be cost-effective.


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