Fertility specialists run a wide battery of tests when assessing a patient for fertility treatments like IVF. The existing tests do a pretty good job determining who may be a good candidate, but they are not foolproof. In some cases, a patient may have promising preliminary test results and the quality of the embryos created during the cycle may be excellent, but still every round of IVF attempted ends unsuccessfully. It is a terrible situation for the patient and for the doctors, who are unable to explain why this woman is unsuccessful when so many other IVF patients are able to carry a baby to term.
The financial and emotional toll of repeated IVF failures can be steep, and never knowing why the treatment was unsuccessful is an added heartbreak for these patients. Uncertainty is a part of every fertility journey, but thanks to a new study, answers for some women may be within reach. Recently, researchers from the UK and the Netherlands have discovered a “genetic signature” in the womb which could offer an explanation and save some women years of heartache and physical stress.
How genetic testing can predict IVF success
It may be more accurate to say that genetic testing may be able to predict IVF failure. Professor Nick Macklon, medical director of Complete Fertility Centre Southampton and researchers from the University Medical Center Utrecht and the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam conducted a study where they analyzed endometrial biopsy samples from women who had undergone IVF. Of these patients, 42 had been diagnosed with recurrent implantation failure, and 72 had gone on to give birth successfully.
The findings were remarkable: more than 80 percent of the women who had experienced multiple failed IVF cycles shared a genetic pattern. This “signature” or “fingerprint” is an abnormal gene expression which may be affecting the lining of their womb. The study shows that when this signature is present, it is always associated with IVF failure. It also suggests that a large percentage of women who suffer through repeated disappointments with IVF may be miscarrying because of a problem with the receptivity of their uterus.
Future implications of this study
What does this mean for patients hoping to use IVF or other Assisted Reproductive Technologies to conceive and carry a baby to term? These early findings are conclusive enough to be used in developing a genetic test for IVF candidates. This test could identify women with the problem genetic signature early in the process. If a patient tests positive for this signature, that would be pretty conclusive evidence that it’s probably not possible for her to carry a pregnancy to term, even with the help of IVF.
As painful as that news may be to receive, it could provide closure and prevent years of repeated IVF failures, an ordeal that no patient should ever have to go through. The test results would help fertility clinics offer more effective counseling about realistic options and support for women whose chances of a successful pregnancy are very low. It may allow and encourage such patients to explore other options, such as surrogacy, which could offer the best chance of building their family.
The medical community is continually finding new ways to address these issues, and with a new generation of gene therapies on the horizon, studies like this may be paving the way for previously unimaginable solutions to age-old problems like infertility. There is still a long road of research and clinical trials ahead before this prospective genetic test becomes a reality for fertility specialists and their patients, but these findings are already having an impact on how the field thinks about serious problems with fertility.