As one of the top fertility clinics in the UK, Herts & Essex Fertility Centre prides itself on being well-informed on new treatment innovation in IVF. We are always keen to offer treatments where research has demonstrated that a real benefit can be provided to our patients; whether that’s through increased success rates, a safer or improved treatment journey, or because they offer better value. Our Hyaluronian Binding Assay (HBA) sperm selection technique is a good example of that ethos; improved research results led to us incorporating the HBA specialist sperm selection treatment into our routine semen assessments.
So, a new IVF technique that offers ‘a more natural early fertilisation process that takes place within the womb’ would, on the face of it, appear to be something we might take an interest in – and we are. But, looking behind the headlines of this new Natural IVF Fertilisation Device, it appears to us that those all-important benefits to our patients are not achieved.
The Natural IVF Fertilisation Device treatment begins just as with conventional IVF treatment until, after the eggs are collected and introduced to the sperm within the laboratory environment; both eggs and sperm are placed into a small silicon device. This device is inserted back into the uterus and removed again 24 hours later to be checked for fertilisation and embryo development. At this point the embryos are removed from the device and are cultured further in a laboratory setting until, as with conventional IVF, the embryologist selects the best quality embryo to transfer back into the uterus.
Unlike conventional IVF, whereby the egg and sperm are introduced together and remain in an incubator within a regulated laboratory environment, these extra invasive procedures have the potential to expose the eggs, sperm and resulting embryos to extra cooling which is detrimental to embryo development.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has approved the procedure stating that there is no evidence the technique is unsafe. However, they also advise that there is no evidence that it is more effective than standard IVF, resulting in an unnecessary further cost to patients.
The Natural IVF Fertilisation Device method treatment carries an extra cost of around £800 on top of the price of standard IVF, which is coupled with the need for more appointments. In return, the patient undergoes a more invasive procedure which is producing, at best, results equal to the success rates of conventional IVF.
This is a technique that was first developed to introduce IVF treatment into countries where there are no regulated high tech laboratory and incubator facilities, an essential part of IVF treatment. We will watch the early trials carefully to see if results improve to the point that there is an absolute advantage to patients.