How research helps improve IVF

One in six couples will seek medical help to have a family, according to Hammersmith Hospital – home of the UK’s first infertility clinic, the Wolfson Family Clinic. While most couples enter the process of starting a family without much difficulty, one in six couples will seek medical help, and one in 10 of these couples will go on to have assisted conception treatment. The inability to conceive naturally is heart-breaking, devastating and often stressful.

The existing treatments are very expensive and do not work for everyone, and researchers at Hammersmith Hospital are constantly working to improve treatments and success rates for those who are desperate for a family.

The Wolfson Family Clinic is now the largest centre in Europe for research and treatment of infertility. Over 2,000 children have been born as a result of the work of the Hammersmith.

One area the researchers are focusing on is the rate of IVF failure. Pregnancy rates following in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are low, and following embryo transfer only about 25% of embryos implant.

In addition, preimplantation development in vitro is poor, with only 50% of fertilised 1-cell embryos reaching the blastocyst stage 6 days after IVF. The reasons for this high rate of developmental arrest are unclear.

Close links between the large Hammersmith Hospital IVF Unit, providing a tertiary referral centre for patients with intractable infertility, and a strong laboratory-based research team, provide a powerful base for investigation into why IVF fails.

The overall aims of the research group are to gain a clearer understanding of early human development, to improve IVF pregnancy rates, and to develop techniques for detecting inherited disorders before implantation.

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