Page last updated at 09:05 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 10:05 UK

'IVF success blood test hope'

By Emma Wilkinson
BBC News health reporter in Amsterdam

Blood test
A test would look for tell-tale markers in the blood

Researchers have raised the prospect of a simple test to help women decide whether to keep using fertility treatment to try for a baby.

They have uncovered markers in a woman's blood which predict the success or failure of IVF treatment.

Speaking at a fertility conference, the Irish team said there was a clear difference between women who went on to get pregnant and those who did not.

A UK expert said the results needed to be proven in more patients.

Study leader Dr Cathy Allen, from Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, said they had started out looking at what genes were turned on or off at certain points before, during and after pregnancy.

Analysis of blood samples showed that many genes controlling the growth of new blood vessels, inflammation and the supply of energy to cells were all doing different things in women undergoing IVF.

These processes would all be involved in creating the right environment for an embryo to implant in the womb and to support growth of the foetus.

Among five women who got pregnant and three who did not there was a marked difference in the activity of 200 of these genes at the very beginning of fertility treatment.

This gene "signature" was predictive of whether IVF worked or not.

'Difficult decision'

Dr Allen said one of the most difficult decisions for women undergoing IVF was to decide whether to keep having more cycles of treatment.

A blood test based on the activity of this group of genes could help women and their doctors decide whether to keep going when they had been unsuccessful, she told delegates at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

"When you compared patients who were just about to undergo IVF and looked at gene expression profiles they fell into two very distinct groups - one group who would become pregnant and one group who wouldn't become pregnant," she said.

"As a practising clinician, I think this might have a use for patients trying to decide whether they should undergo IVF or not.

"It's going to be a while before we have a clinical test but my gut feeling is it will be useful for identifying the unfavourable profile - those who won't get pregnant."

She added that doctors found it very hard sometimes to decide what was best, especially after a few unsuccessful treatments.

"It's a huge dilemma for clinicians and patients."

Tony Rutherford, chair of the British Fertility Society said agreed that predicting response was an important area of research but much of it was in the very early stages.

"We have seen a lot of work at this conference looking at non-invasive ways of trying to predict failure.

"A test such as this would potentially make the patient more informed but before we embark on this we need to make sure its effective."

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