Sarah: Every time an egg and a sperm come together, its a bit of a lottery as to how the chromosomes from each contributing parent manage to recombine and form new life.
Occasionally errors in chromosomes occur – perhaps an extra copy sneaks in, or one is lost. Sometimes this means a pregnancy doesn’t even get started; sometimes the embryo will survive a few weeks or even months.
When parents look for medical assistance to achieve pregnancy through IVF (in vitro fertilisation), insemination of eggs often occurs under controlled laboratory conditions. If an embryo starts to grow, it is then placed into the uterus and everyone crosses their fingers in the hope that a baby will result.
But even if the embryo looks healthy, its chromosomes may contain errors. Just like when natural fertilisation occurs, such pregnancies will also fail in the early or even later stages. Many parents using IVF undergo repeated cycles of heartbreak and high financial costs until a baby finally arrives.
A new test has been developed by a biotech start-up company in Adelaide to screen the numbers of chromosomes in an IVF embryo before it is selected for a possible pregnancy.
Adelaide biotech kit to improve IVF success
A screening kit developed by Adelaide biotech start-up Reproductive Health Science will reduce heartache and financial burden for couples seeking to become parents through IVF.
The kit is used to safely test an embryo for the correct number of chromosomes before it is selected to start a pregnancy.
Chromosome abnormalities are the leading cause of pregnancy failure and loss in women of all ages.
“As far as we know, for this kind of chromosome testing there are no other Australia companies developing competing products,” said Dr Michelle Fraser, the CEO and director of Reproductive Health Science.
“One of the advantages of our technology is its ease of interpretation. We’ve developed a kit that is easy to use and which does not require complex analysis by the clinician. The readout is also easy for the patient to understand,” she said.
The new testing kit relies on technology known as microarray, in which the chromosomes in a single embryo cell are laid out as a grid of DNA, and then amplified. Missing or extra chromosomes are identified using the procedure.
IVF, or in vitro fertilisation, offers couples medical assistance to achieve pregnancy.
Statistics from Reuters global analysts predict the global market in IVF will grow by more than 12% in the period 2012-2016 due to increasing infertility rates and greater uptake of medical tourism. However cost is one of the major barriers to IVF for many couples. The process can also be an emotional rollercoaster when apparently healthy embryos fail to successfully implant into the uterus, or don’t survive for the duration of a pregnancy. Current success rates for IVF hover around 20%.
“Being able to count the number of chromosomes in embryos before they are selected for a pregnancy is an important tool for doctors,” said Dr Louise Hull, a reproductive health researcher at the University of Adelaide and fertility consultant at Fertility SA.
“It’s an exciting approach that Reproductive Health Science is using. Providing accurate information about the chromosome component of embryos will offer greater confidence to couples having IVF, particularly those who have been through the heartbreak of repeated miscarriages or failed pregnancies in the past,” she added.
Improved success will also reduce the need for multiple cycles of IVF, and therefore result in lower overall costs for the couple involved.
Reproductive Health Science — which recently listed on the Australian Stock Exchange after a reverse merger in April — will officially launch their kit and related products later in 2014. The company was founded in 2003 on a patented technology for single cell chromosome analysis from the University of Adelaide.
“We’ve got a global product, and we’ll be going after the global market,” said Dr Fraser.
“Making sure you’ve got a really good quality embryo in IVF is something that’s important across the industry.”
Reproductive Health Science will stay based in Thebarton Bioscience Precinct in South Australia for the foreseeable future.