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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 19:03 GMT
IVF 'fastest way to get pregnant'
IVF - a fast-track to pregnancy
IVF - a fast-track to pregnancy
It seems the traditional way of making a baby is old hat - IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is the fastest way to conception, scientists say.

Couples at the best-performing IVF clinics across the world have a higher chance of becoming pregnant during one cycle than those leaving it up to nature.

One clinic in Australia has reported a 36% success rate per IVF cycle.

Some clinics in Britain and America have reported pregnancy rates of up to 40%.

IVF is expensive and intrusive. People are going to continue getting pregnant by bonking in the suburbs rather than coming to us

Keith Harrison, Queensland Fertility Group
In comparison fertile couples who are having sex have only a 25% chance of pregnancy each month, though most do eventually succeed.

But a UK expert said the fact IVF was still not successful for the majority of people, and the commitment needed to the IVF process would mean most couples would still choose to try to conceive through having sex.

Improved procedures

It is thought IVF success rates could be even higher if couples with fertility problems, for whom the process will never work, were excluded.

There is some controversy over the rates clinics claim as some, though not the Albury, may massage their figures, for example by quoting very early pregnancy rates, many of which do not result in the birth of a baby.

The success rate for the Australian clinic, the Reproductive Medicine Albury in New South Wales, is much higher than the 21% success rate across Australia in 2000, and twice as good as the clinic's own pregnancy rates before the changes.

These latest results are not included in official statistics, which lag several years behind.

IVF is not a better bet

Sue Avery, Bourn Hall Clinic
Better controls on conditions in laboratories are also thought to have helped success rates.

One simple step the Albury has taken is to prevent the loss of heat from the dishes in which eggs and embryos are manipulated during IVF.

To maintain body temperature, the dish is usually placed on a warm platform but it can lose heat from the top of the dish.

The Albury clinic solved this problem by blowing warm air over the dishes.

But the clinic found that the higher pregnancy rate led to higher numbers of twins and triplets being born, with half of women at Albury having twins.

Because multiple pregnancies carry a higher risk of complications, clinics are now considering implanting only one embryo in some women.

'Quantam leap'

Keith Harrison of the Queensland Fertility Group in Brisbane said there had been a "quantum leap" in success rates for routine IVF.

He said: "There's now substantial evidence that the good results achieved by these tweaks can be duplicated. All clinics should be adopting them."

But he added: "IVF is expensive and intrusive. People are going to continue getting pregnant by bonking in the suburbs rather than coming to us."

Dr Mohamed Taranissi is director of the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecological Centre in London - which has a live birth rate, as opposed to pregnancy rate of 40% - compared with a national average of 17 to 19%.

He said few couples would choose to try IVF as a fast-track method of getting pregnant.

"The vast majority of people we see have problems, or think they have problems,"

He added: "Success rates have improved over the years, but I think we've now come to a kind of a plateau.

"The next stage is to start looking at more complex areas such as immunology and chromosome abnormalities, which we don't understand at the moment."

Sue Avery, scientific director at the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, whose founders developed IVF, agreed only a few would choose to go through IVF who did not need to.

"There is at least a 60% chance, and for most a 70 to 75% chance of it not working, then IVF is not a better bet."

There had been fears expressed, when licences were given out allowing clinics to keep frozen eggs, that women would freeze eggs when young and save them for use at the end of their career.

Sue Avery said these fears had proved to be unfounded.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | Health
'Legalise IVF sex selection'
07 Aug 01 | Health
Action to cut IVF multiple births
07 Dec 00 | Health
Sex 'boosts IVF chances'
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