IVF success

A new machine has been developed could be used to boost the IVF success rate up to a staggering 85%. Capable of identifying embryos which are more likely to lead to a live birth, the machine could potentially spare couples the distress and agony of stillbirths and miscarriages commonly experienced during the fertility treatment.

Here, we’ll look into this exciting development and whether artificial intelligence could prove the key to boosting IVF success rates.

Knowing which embryos to use is key to IVF success

It is estimated that approximately half of the losses experienced within early pregnancy are down to abnormal embryos. Therefore, in order to boost success rates, identifying the healthiest, normal embryos to use in IVF is crucial.

While time-lapse technology has been successfully used in IVF since 2010, it doesn’t have the same accuracy and scope as artificial intelligence. So, the development of this new machine is a great step forward and promises to improve the success rate of current technologies.

Understanding the study

The AI technology was jointly developed by the Cornell University in New York and the Imperial College London. They nicknamed the machine ‘The Beast’ and initially gave it 700 embryo images, telling the machine which ones resulted in a live birth and which led to a stillbirth or miscarriage. This helped it to identify subtle changes which could point to a potential problem.

During the trial, 328 embryo images were tested in the machine that had already been implanted into patients. Scientists asked the machine to identify which embryos would lead to a live birth and it correctly predicted 280.

What makes this new machine so impressive, is that it continues to learn as it goes along. From the data provided, it learns more about which embryos are the best to use, making it much more accurate in future.

However, experts are keen to point out that embryo health is approximately 80% to 90% of the reason a pregnancy could fail. There are other factors which could contribute too, meaning the results of the machine will never truly be 100% accurate. However, it certainly boosts the chances of success and significantly reduces the risks of a miscarriage and stillbirth.

Results of embryo viability study prove promising for future treatment

The results of the study have proven both exciting and revolutionary. The ability to increase success rates by as much as 85% is fantastic. What’s more, experts claim the technology could be used in mainstream fertility treatment within just five years.

Many fertility clinics are already using time-lapse imaging, so they’ll be able to start using the machine as soon as it becomes available. The images simply need to be sent digitally to the machine, which will then provide feedback. So, there’s no real cost of using it as everything can be done online. This makes it an especially great option to be used on the NHS.

Overall, the risk of miscarriage and stillbirths is prevalent in IVF treatment. However, this new artificial technology could soon drastically reduce the risks, enabling the majority of women to be spared the devastation of losing the baby.

menopause tests

The menopause is something no woman likes to think about. While it typically occurs in women over the age of 50, it can also present early for many patients, sometimes even in their early 20s.

Prior to entering the menopause, it’s common for women to experience symptoms, sometimes many years before the actual menopause kicks in. This is referred to as perimenopause and it can wreak havoc on the body. So, how can you tell if you’re going through the menopause? Here, you’ll discover everything you need to know.

Common changes which occur in the lead up to the menopause

In the months or years leading up to the menopause, you may start to experience some changes within the body. These include:

  • Hot flashes
  • Irregular periods
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Forgetfulness

Some of the menopause symptoms above can pinpoint other issues, which is why many women miss the initial signs of perimenopause.

Hot flushes are one of the most common menopause symptoms, though not every woman will experience them. You’ll basically start to feel really hot very suddenly, causing the skin to flush and your heart rate to quicken. This hot spell disappears just as quickly as it began, and they tend to be most common at night time.

By far one of the most tell-tale signs you’re heading towards the menopause, is when your periods start to become more irregular. They could become heavier or lighter and last for longer or shorter periods of time. The irregularity of your periods can make it difficult to get pregnant. It’s worth noting that some medications and treatments can cause your periods to become irregular, so it is worth seeking advice from a doctor before dismissing it as the menopause.

What menopause tests are available?

If you are concerned you are heading towards the change of life, there are menopause tests which can be done to confirm or dismiss your concern. Saliva tests used to be provided, but these typically have very low accuracy rates. So, healthcare professionals tend to use follicle-stimulating hormone testing.

Follicle stimulating hormone testing is a blood test which identifies the FSH levels within the blood. However, there are many things which can affect the outcome of this menopause test. During perimenopause, oestrogen and FSH levels tend to fluctuate, making it difficult to achieve accurate results. Unless the woman is actively in menopause, the FSH blood test isn’t going to accurately identify the issue.

Seeking treatment for menopausal symptoms

The best way to determine whether or not you are heading towards the menopause, is to have a full health check. This includes looking over your medical history and menopausal history, alongside the signs and symptoms you’re experiencing.

Menopause itself is diagnosed when you have gone 12 months without a period. However, any perimenopausal symptoms you do experience should be checked over by a doctor to ensure it isn’t down to any other medical condition. Changes in periods should especially be assessed professionally as they can potentially point to a more sinister problem.

As you can see, it can be difficult to diagnose perimenopause. However, the symptoms above can be a clear sign you’re heading towards the menopause. Be sure to have any symptoms checked out as soon as you can and arrange menopause tests as there are treatments available which can help you to manage the side effects.

fertility health check

If you’ve been struggling to get pregnant, a fertility health check can prove invaluable at diagnosing the issue. While it’s common for couples to try for at least a year before they conceive, if you’re still trying to get pregnant after a year it could be a sign that something is amiss.

Going for a fertility health check can be daunting, especially if you have no idea what to expect. However, the process isn’t as gruelling as you might think and if a problem is detected, there are numerous treatments on offer to help increase your chances of conception.

Below, you’ll discover what to expect from a fertility health check to help ease your concerns. However, it is worth keeping in mind that health checks are carried out dependent upon personal circumstances. Therefore, some of the tests mentioned below may not relate to you.

Fertility health check: going over your medical history

The first thing that will be addressed at your fertility health check is your medical history. This helps the specialist to identify any medical issues, both in the past and present, which could be impacting your fertility. Some conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases, thyroid disease and diabetes can contribute to issues with fertility.

You will also discuss any medications you currently take, along with the frequency and times that you usually have intercourse. Understandably, many patients find it embarrassing to open up about their sex life, but the specialist will help to make you feel comfortable and you can guarantee there’s nothing they haven’t heard before.

Fertility health check: basic fertility tests

Once you and your partner have had a chat about your medical history, some basic tests will need to be carried out. Men will be required to provide a sperm sample and undergo a blood test to check hormone levels. The sperm sample is analysed to detect the number, motility and shape of the sperm.

The woman will start by undergoing an ultrasound to identify the number of resting eggs and assess the uterus. A blood test will also be carried out to identify her reproductive hormone levels. These basic tests will then either identify the cause of the issues, or further tests may be required.

Fertility health check: additional fertility health tests which may be required

If an initial cause cannot be identified or based upon your medical history, you may be required to undergo the following additional tests:

  • Blood tests
  • Cervical mucus test
  • Laparoscopy
  • Endometrial biopsy
  • Hysterosalpingogram (HSG)

Blood tests may be required to test the thyroid levels, the follicle stimulating hormone and Oestradiol levels. A Cervical Mucus test may be carried out to determine how well sperm survive in the woman’s body after intercourse. A laparoscopy is a surgical procedure which is used to examine the fallopian tubes, ovaries and uterus, while an endometrial biopsy looks at whether there is a hormonal imbalance preventing the woman from sustaining a pregnancy. Finally, a Hysterosalpingogram is an x-ray procedure which can detect whether the fallopian tube passages are blocked.

These are just some of the additional tests which could be required. However, most are minimally invasive, and the fertility specialist will help to put your mind at ease every step of the way.

Overall, while it may be daunting heading to a fertility health check-up, there really is nothing to worry about. It can help you to get to the bottom of your fertility troubles and put you on the right treatment path to increase your chances of conception.

Non-invasive prenatal test

The NHS is set to offer a new non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) which will help with the early identification of genetic abnormalities. Given at just ten weeks into the pregnancy, the simple blood test is also able to identify the sex of the baby. However, experts are calling for the early gender reveal to be banned amidst worries it could be used for gender selection pregnancies.

Here, we’ll look at what the new NIPT involves and why experts are worried about the gender reveal aspect of the test.

What is this pregnancy test used for?

The NIPT is a blood test which was first made available in the UK in 2012. Carried out as early as ten weeks, it is largely used to test baby’s risk of Down’s Syndrome, Patau’s Syndrome and Edward’s Syndrome.

Compared to other existing tests, NIPT is much more accurate and it’s known to present no risk of a miscarriage. A little blood is taken from the arm, in which traces of your baby’s DNA can be found. The DNA is then tested for potential chromosomal abnormalities. Results of the test typically take up to three weeks.

While its ability to detect chromosomal abnormalities is extremely beneficial, the test can also reveal other information about the baby including gender. It is this aspect which experts are hoping to ban.

Gender reveal not considered medically useful

A report recently published by the National Council for Bioethics, recommends against using NIPT for gender reveal purposes, claiming it isn’t medically useful. The worry is that the information could be used as a gender selection process.

For example, in some cultures, there is a preference for baby boys. So, if a woman discovers she is having a baby girl at ten weeks, she could be more inclined to have an abortion and try again for a baby boy. Usually at the 20-week scan, women are much less inclined to have an abortion due to how much their baby has grown. However, at ten weeks, the decision becomes much easier, which is what experts are largely concerned about.

The worry over designer babies

It isn’t just the gender reveal part of the test which worries experts. It can also potentially detect baby’s eye colour and hair colour. So, there is also a risk it could be used as a designer baby tool.

This has caused a great deal of controversy with many arguing that denying women the right to know the sex of their baby does women a disservice. As Clare Murphy from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service explains: “In the circumstances where a woman is under pressure to produce a child of a particular sex the ethical answer is not to deny every pregnant woman the right to find out information about her own pregnancy, but to do our utmost to challenge misogynistic attitudes, ensure gender equality and access to comprehensive women’s support services so that women can make their own choice about their pregnancy free from coercion.”

When is the best time to discover baby’s sex?

The best time to discover the sex of your baby is at your 20-week ultrasound scan. However, if you’re struggling to wait that long, you could undergo a private scan anywhere from 14 weeks. Any earlier than that and baby may not be developed enough to tell the gender.

The fact the NHS is going to offer NIPT to detect for early chromosomal abnormalities is great news; especially for women who are considered to be having a higher risk pregnancy.

infertility device

A new device which is capable of potentially spotting infertility has been developed by fertility specialists from the University of Southampton. Roughly equal to the size of a 5p coin, the device monitors the temperature, oxygen and pH levels within the womb.

Their goal is to identify what a healthy womb environment looks like and use that knowledge to help infertile couples conceive naturally. Here, we’ll look into this exciting new device and the impact it could have on the fertility sector.

Understanding the new infertility device

The new device is essentially a sensor which measures 3.8mm and it’s been designed by engineers and doctors at the University of Southampton. It will be used to monitor pH levels, temperature and oxygen within the womb, for a period of seven days. Up until now, doctors have been unable to monitor these factors which are known to play a role in fertility.

The sensor is inserted into the womb, much like a contraceptive coil. It takes just a few minutes to implant it, then the device will start measuring the PH, temperature and oxygen levels of the womb every 30 minutes. The readings are sent to a transmitter which is sewn into the underwear, wirelessly. From there, the data is sent to a mobile phone or computer.

After the seven days are up, the device is removed, and the doctor can then use the readings to determine the best course of treatment. It could save thousands of couples needing to undergo IVF treatment.

The infertility device could be used to develop new fertility therapies

There are a few reasons why this new device could prove crucial in the fertility sector. Firstly, it could be used to detect fertility issues much quicker than other existing methods. This could greatly reduce the chances a couple could need to resort to IVF. The earlier a problem is detected, the easier it will typically be to try and resolve.

For example, if the pH levels within the womb aren’t within the normal range, it could point to an issue with the gut. This, in turn, could be treated with something as simple as probiotics.

Another benefit of the device is the potential for new fertility therapies to be developed in the future. If the device is proven to work, the doctors and engineers behind it believe that it could pave the way for big changes within the healthcare sector.

What’s next?

So, now the infertility device has been developed, what’s next? Well, first it’s going to need to be tested. Initially, they will test the device on 30 women from the fertility clinic at the university.

If the initial trial goes well, they are hoping to carry out a more in-depth study, enlisting women from fertility and miscarriage clinics.

Overall, the development of the device is exciting and if the trial goes well, it could soon start to be introduced into the NHS. However, while there’s no doubt it could certainly help a lot of couples avoid IVF treatment, it is worth pointing out that your fertility issues may not be caused by a poor womb environment. Therefore, it’s crucial to visit a fertility specialist to determine the exact cause of your fertility troubles.

reassurance pregnancy scan

A revolutionary new brain-scanning project is now underway to see just how our brains develop. Scientists from the Developing Human Connectome Project (DHCP), are scanning the brains of 1,000 sleeping newborns and are hoping the results will help to understand the beginning of neurological disorders.

The study, which is set to continue over the next few years, has already shown some interesting insights into a baby’s brain. Here, we’ll look at what has been discovered so far, the potential challenges of the study and how the results could prove beneficial in terms of understanding of how neurological disorders develop.

The study so far

The DHCP is being led by the Oxford University, King’s College London and the Imperial College London. Its goal is to create a dynamic map of the human brain’s connectivity from 20-44 weeks after conception. It will look at imagining, genetic, clinical and behavioural information shortly before, as well as after, the birth.

After receiving 15 million Euros in funding from the European Research Council, the DHCP is using magnetic resonance imaging along with computer analysis, to capture detailed images which were once impossible to see.

They have already scanned the brains and released the results from 40 babies for other scientists to look at. There is expected to be hundreds of thousands of scans released over the next few years, and they have already scanned the brains of 500 babies in the womb.

Some of the babies involved in the scan, were known to be at a high risk of developing autism and other neurological disorders. So, scientists are focusing on comparing their brains to that of other infants.

What challenges do the scans present?

While these new pregnancy scans are exciting, they certainly don’t come without their challenges. This is especially true when trying to scan the brains of babies still in the womb. There’s the risk that both the baby and the mother could move during the scan, causing the images to be blurred or inconsistent.

Even babies which are sleeping can move around. This was something the researchers discovered early on in the study in 2013. Over 10% of the scans failed initially due to the babies waking up during the procedure. This challenge has been rectified, however, with the baby’s being fed prior to the scan.

The scanner software was also tweaked a little to ensure it didn’t make sudden noises which could wake the baby. Computational techniques are also being used to correct even the slightest of movements, ensuring a clear scan image is produced even if the baby does move.

Helping us to discover how the brain works?

There are still three more years to go with the study and the overall goal is to help us to discover more about how the brain works. Genetic and medical data will hopefully be produced for the babies and they’ll be tested later in life to see how the brain changes. This will help scientists to discover more about the anatomy influence and brain wiring in later life.

There’s still a long way to go, but the study is certainly promising. In the meantime, if you are worried about your baby’s development, there are reassurance pregnancy scans and tests you can undergo to help put your mind at ease.

gender reveal scan

There are a lot of old wife’s tales surrounding the predictability of a baby’s sex. Some appear logical, while others are downright bizarre. One particular method of predicting baby’s sex is listening to the rate of baby’s heartbeat.

While there’s no research to back up this theory, could a baby’s heartbeat really predict their sex?

What’s the theory?

According to some people, the heart rate of a foetus can identify whether it is a boy or a girl. If the heartrate is less than 140 beats per minute, it indicates a boy, whereas if it’s faster then it’s a girl.

If this theory were true, it would be exciting for parents-to-be, given that the heartbeat can be detected much earlier than an ultrasound scan. However, could it actually be true? Not according to research!

Could it be true?

There have actually been several studies conducted which have looked into whether a baby’s heartbeat can reveal its sex.

In 2006, a study found that there was no difference between a male and a female heartbeat. The study ran from 1997 to 2003 and looked at 477 sonograms which were taken within the first trimester. The results determined gender could not be established by a baby’s heart rate.

A further study carried out in 2013, also looked at the heart rate of male and female babies during the mother’s first trimester. Again, no real difference was discovered between them. So, it appears baby’s heart rate isn’t a good indicator of whether you are having a girl or a boy.

Other common gender prediction myths

Of course, heart rate isn’t the only gender detection ‘myth’ out there – although some of those old wives’ tales actually have scientific backing.

Extreme morning sickness, for example, is said to indicate that the baby is a female. Recent research has pointed towards the fact that this could indeed be true. In 2017, it was discovered that women who were carrying a baby girl suffered increased inflammation due to bacteria they were exposed to compared to those carrying a boy. This could in turn increase the severity of morning sickness.

This is one of the few gender prediction myths which does have some scientific backing. Mostly, the myths you come across are exactly that.

Is there any way to predict baby’s sex?

The only reliable way to determine baby’s sex, is to undergo an ultrasound scan. The 20-week scan is the best time to ask for gender reveal. However, it is possible to pay for a private ultrasound scan from 10-weeks into the pregnancy. It may be possible to see baby’s gender at these earlier scans, but you do need to be aware that it isn’t always reliable. Later scans are the best for accurately revealing gender.

Overall, there’s a lot of gender reveal myths out there and the only way to really tell whether you are having a boy or a girl is during an ultrasound scan.

first pregnancy scan

Heading off to your first pregnancy scan can be both exciting and terrifying. It’s the first time you get to see your growing baby, but there’s always a fear something may be wrong. It can also be daunting not really knowing what to expect at the first scan.

If you’re due your first pregnancy scan, below you’ll discover everything you can expect.

Will you need to bring anything to your first pregnancy scan?

You don’t need to take anything with you, unless you’ve already received your hospital maternity notes. These can be used to see how well baby is developing, but they aren’t required. So, all you need to bring is yourself.

What will you be able to see at your first pregnancy scan?

If you choose to undergo the standard 12-week scan, you’ll be able to see a black and white image of your baby. They will have all of their organs, bones, limbs, muscles and sex organs. This means you’ll also be able to discover the sex if you want to.

If you want a higher quality image of your baby, you can opt for a 3D or 4D scan, although you still may not be able to see a whole lot depending upon how baby is positioned. It’s typically best to wait until baby is a little more developed before undergoing a 3D or 4D scan.

How is the scan carried out?

The 12-week scan is usually carried out abdominally. A cold gel will be applied onto the stomach before an ultrasound device is rubbed on top of it. This produces a 2D image onto a computer screen, giving you the first glimpse of your baby.

Occasionally, internal scans may be required where a small probe is gently placed inside the vagina. These are typically done to measure endometrial thickness and cervical assessments. However, the majority of patients will undergo the non-invasive abdominal tests.

How do I prepare for my first pregnancy scan?

It is better to undergo the scan on a full bladder. Therefore, it’s recommended that you drink a full pint of water an hour before your scan is due to take place. You’ll also want to prepare yourself for the coldness of the gel.

Many women are surprised by how cold the gel actually is and being anxious can make it feel like more of a shock than it needs to be. So, although you’ll understandably be nervous, it’s worth trying to control those nerves prior to the scan.

Who can attend the scan?

You can take anyone into the scan with you. However, as it is your first look at your baby, you’ll obviously want to ensure you’re not too distracted and you can focus fully on the scan.

What does the scan test for?

The 12-week scan assesses your baby’s development to check that everything is as it should be. If a problem is discovered, you’ll be recommended to a fetal medicine consultant. They will either confirm the findings or request more testing to be carried out.

Overall, the 12-week scan is an exciting milestone in your pregnancy journey. It provides the first glimpse at your little miracle and provides peace of mind that all is as it should be. The above are the main things you can expect from the test. However, if you have any concerns or questions, one of our scanning experts will be on hand to help.

endometriosis and fertility link

Endometriosis can be a debilitating condition, impacting many areas of a patient’s life. The endometriosis and fertility link has long been studied and now a new study has revealed the true impact endometriosis has on IVF success.

It revealed patients with worsening endometriosis, had a reduced chance of pregnancy via In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Here, we’ll look at how the study was carried out and what it means for women suffering with Endometriosis who are considering going down the IVF route.

Understanding the study on endometriosis and fertility

The Israeli and Canadian study, published within The Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynaecology, showed that worsening endometriosis in patients undergoing IVF decreased clinical and ongoing pregnancy rates.

There was a total of 216 infertile patients with endometriosis and 209 infertile patients without the condition, participating in the study. Those who did have endometriosis, were classified in accordance with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, with 58 patients in the Stage 1 category, 67 patients in the Stage 2 category, 63 patients in the Stage 3 category and 28 patients in the stage 4 category.

The patients were given a laparoscopy, along with an autologous IVF cycle between 2009 to 2014. After analysing the two groups, it was discovered patients with endometriosis had a consistent decline in ongoing and clinical pregnancy rates. It also identified a link to endometriosis surgery.

Those who waited 13 to 25 months after surgery to undergo IVF, had much better chances of success. The 13 to 25-month group had a 52.4% pregnancy rate, while those in the 7 to 12 month group had a 50% pregnancy rate. Those who waited until after 25 months, or from 0 to 3 months after surgery, had a lower 32.5% pregnancy rate.

Endometriosis and fertility link

Endometriosis is a common condition, and, in most cases, it has no impact on fertility. Those with a mild form of the condition typically have no issues falling pregnant naturally. However, as the condition worsens, it results in increased scar tissue which can decrease the chances of natural conception.

Although there is a link between endometriosis and infertility, the exact cause isn’t yet known. It is also still possible for patients with a severe form of the condition, to fall pregnant naturally. So, just because you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have trouble with fertility.

If you are diagnosed with fertility issues, there are treatment options available and IVF is one of them.

Is IVF a good treatment option?

Although the new research does determine that worsening forms of endometriosis can negatively impact IVF success, it is still considered an effective treatment option. Patients with a mild form of the condition should have similar chances of falling pregnant through IVF as women who do not have the condition.

The study also only assessed women who had undergone surgery to treat Endometriosis. So, it doesn’t apply to those who haven’t needed surgery. The best way to determine whether IVF is right for you, is to book a consultation with a fertility specialist. They will be able to assess the issue and figure out the best course of treatment to improve your chances of getting pregnant.

genetic testing and prenatal diagnosis

Two new studies have indicated that genetic testing could be the future of prenatal diagnosis. Researchers have been working towards improving non-invasive testing for the early detection of genetic abnormalities for years now and it appears they are finally getting closer.

Here, we’ll look at the two recent studies carried out and what they mean for the future of prenatal diagnosis.

Study #1: The Lab-On-A-Chip device

The first study, involving a Lab-On-Chip device (LOC), was carried out by Russian and Australian biomedical engineers. They developed the small microfluidic device and published their findings within the Advanced Materials Technologies.

The device screens high volumes of blood, helping to distinguish between maternal white blood cells and fetal cells. It’s well-known that after week five of pregnancy, fetal cells that have been shed from the placenta, start to circulate within the blood. However, existing CVS prenatal tests can only be done as early as 12 weeks into the pregnancy. They’re also usually only offered to women over the age of 35 or to women who have a high-risk pregnancy.

There are also Circulating Cell-Free Fetal DNA and Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) technologies available, but these can currently only detect a very small number of genetic conditions.

The hope is, the new LOC technology will be more reliable and able to detect a larger number of genetic abnormalities. During a feasibility study, the researchers were able to isolate 79% of trophoblastic cells using the LOC technology. They then confirmed that the fetal cells could be used in order to diagnose aneuploidy. A second feasibility study the technology was shown to detect single fetal trophoblast, highlighting that LOC could be used with downstream genetic analysis.

A clinical study will now need to be carried out to validate these results. If it does, the LOC device could significantly reduce the number of invasive tests carried out. It could also help to reassure women who are considered to have a low-risk pregnancy.

Study #2: Fetal DNA Sequencing

The US National Institutes of Health’s Institute director and senior researcher, Diana W. Bianchi, has recently published an article on how fetal DNA sequencing could reduce the need for invasive prenatal testing.

Published within the New England Journal of Medicine, the article claims fetal DNA sequencing helps to improve the accuracy or genetic prenatal screening. It is also said to have helped diagnose conditions which would have otherwise been missed.

Carried out by a simple blood test, it is most commonly used to identify conditions which are the result of an additional chromosome. This includes Down Syndrome, Edwards Syndrome and Patau Syndrome. However, it can also be used to detect conditions which are the result of a single cell mutation. Using fetal DNA sequencing on women who have tested negative for abnormalities, could reduce the need for additional prenatal tests.

Both of these studies show promising results and will hopefully go on to replace the more invasive prenatal tests eventually. The LOC device is especially promising, giving a wider range of women access to non-invasive prenatal testing.