The fu­ture of fer­til­ity


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Mary Birdsall has been with Fer­til­ity As­so­ci­ates for 21 years and has seen huge de­vel­op­ments in that time. “The big changes have been the im­prove­ment in the chance of get­ting a baby. When I started there would be some months when we were lucky to get a 20% chance of hav­ing a baby on our IVF pro­gramme, and now our ac­cepted key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tor sits at 50%.”

Mary says there have been big changes in ac­cep­tance too.

“We used to have women come in dis­guised be­cause they were so ashamed that any­one would know they were do­ing IVF. So even though it’s still an in­cred­i­bly hard jour­ney, some of the shame lev­els are hope­fully lower.”

The other huge change is the num­ber of em­bryos trans­ferred. “When we weren’t very good at IVF we tried to in­crease chances by putting lots of em­bryos back. More than 90% of women now choose to put one em­bryo back at a time.”

The past few years have brought big ad­vance­ments in fer­til­ity tech­nol­ogy. “Pre-im­plan­ta­tion Ge­netic Test­ing is now pos­si­ble for diseases where par­ents may know they are car­ry­ing a gene like cys­tic fi­bro­sis.” But screen­ing can also be used to check vi­a­bil­ity. “The most com­mon rea­son for an em­bryo not turn­ing into a baby is that it might not have the cor­rect num­ber of chro­mo­somes, so we can now test em­bryos on around day five to sort them into some that have a de­cent chance and oth­ers which will def­i­nitely not re­sult in a baby.”

And the fu­ture? Mary hopes the next hur­dle they will over­come will be to help cou­ples with no eggs or sperm.

“That’s the Holy Grail be­cause ev­ery day we see peo­ple who have run out of eggs and we can’t help them aside from of­fer­ing them donor eggs. That’s where I see our next huge chal­lenge to over­come ... and that would be amaz­ing!”

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