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5 Ways Technology Continues to Improve Pregnancy Rates and Advance Reproductive Medicine

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thanks to technological advancements made in the last decade surrounding in vitro fertilization (IVF), thousands of SGF patients have achieved their dream of parenthood faster and with fewer IVF cycles.

1. Advanced freezing technology allows more patients to have multiple children as a result of one IVF cycle, thereby reducing the cost and easing the process for patients.

The ability to freeze unused embryos following a fresh IVF cycle has existed for many years, but earlier techniques were associated with undesirable, often damaging ice crystal formation. Vitrification, a flash or fast-freeze technology that’s used today, has greatly improved pregnancy rates seen during cycles using a frozen embryo.

“The ability to freeze and thaw embryos successfully using vitrification is one of the greatest advancements in assisted reproductive technology (ART) over the last decade. Thousands of SGF fertility patients who undergo IVF each year are able to realize the added benefits of frozen embryos,” said Eric A. Widra, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Shady Grove Fertility (SGF).

“When compared to a fresh stimulated IVF cycle, frozen embryo transfers (FET) cost less and are easier for patients because you do not need the egg retrieval surgery or anesthesia, and they’re faster, as each cycle requires very little testing in advance,” adds Widra. “The technology has become so refined, with success rates equal to, or better than, those from fresh embryo transfer cycles, we see hundreds of SGF patients every year who are able to have multiple children from one fresh IVF cycle,” adds Widra.

In the event a fresh transfer is unsuccessful, frozen embryos can provide the possibility of trying again without having to take ovarian stimulation medication. Plus, using a frozen embryo makes it possible to correct for hormone levels that might not be as supportive as necessary of a healthy pregnancy.

2. Genetic testing of embryos lowers miscarriage rate and increases the likelihood of pregnancy with a healthy baby.
Among the numerous advancements in reproductive medicine, physicians can now effectively screen an embryo for chromosomal abnormalities and test for specific genetic conditions that might normally cause miscarriage or an inherited disease.

Once the embryos reach the blastocyst stage, usually on day 5 or 6 of embryo development, an embryologist can take a few cells from the embryo for chromosomal analysis. Then, during a frozen embryo cycle, the embryologist will only thaw an embryo that tested normal for the correct number of chromosomes and the physician can transfer it to the woman’s uterus.

“We advise our patients who are considering genetic testing of their embryos, while the testing will not improve their fertility, it will definitely help decrease the likelihood of a miscarriage as well as increase the likelihood of becoming pregnant with a healthy baby. When put in those terms, most patients agree, genetic testing is beneficial,” adds Dr. Widra.

3. Egg freezing keeps future family building options open.
Thousands of women have decided to freeze their eggs, giving them the power to have children when the timing is right, not when their biological clock dictates they should have them. Given the advances made in egg freezing technology, SGF has grown to be one of the top five egg freezing programs in the U.S., and the number of women choosing this option continues to rise.

“The success of our egg freezing program is multi-faceted and relies not only on very effective vitrification technology to properly freeze the eggs but also on the skillfulness and expertise of our embryologists during the thaw. Patients trust SGF because we are one of only a few centers in the nation with published success rates for women who return to use their frozen eggs. In addition, we have more experience than most centers with egg freezing and thawing, having completed 720 egg freezing cycles in 2018, and nearly 400 egg thaw cycles since 2009. Not every lab has the expertise and experience to vitrify, or flash freeze, eggs and then have them survive the thaw, fertilize, and develop into an embryo that leads to pregnancy and delivery,” adds Widra.

4. SGF’s predictive analytics tool, PRISM, helps forecast IVF success rates, making treatment decisions easier for patients.
“Will IVF work for me?” is often among the first questions patients ask of their reproductive endocrinologist. However, how SGF physicians answer this question is different than how physicians from other centers would answer, as SGF created a customized predictive model, known as PRISM (Predictive Response to IVF Success Model) to help patients make more informed decisions about their care.

Based on 15,000 treatment cycles from 10,000 SGF patients since 2009, PRISM leverages its own IVF success data to determine pregnancy probability, offering patients insight when making difficult treatment decisions.

“Because success rates vary so much from lab to lab, SGF’s PRISM model offers a more precise prediction because it relies on data gathered here, from our prior patients who have gone through IVF in one of our labs. Most other centers use national data that lacks specificity to any one lab’s protocols or technological capabilities. The advantage to our patients is our vast experience since our practice began in 1991. The data allows us to continually fine tune and personalize our treatment protocols to maximize their effectiveness,” adds Dr. Widra.

5. Sperm injection and extraction techniques have nearly eliminated infertility among couples with a severe male factor.
Commonly used in cases of male factor infertility, especially when there is a problem with sperm movement, shape, or number that impairs the sperm’s ability to penetrate the egg on its own, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is a technique in which an embryologist injects a single healthy sperm into an egg. Once fertilization occurs and the embryo matures properly, a physician can transfer it into the uterus.

“ICSI has transformed the treatment of male factor infertility and has been a game changer, especially for couples who have had repeated failed fertilization attempts,” adds Widra. “By injecting the sperm directly into the egg, we negate the need for the sperm to fertilize the egg on its own. Also at our disposal are sperm extraction techniques that are beneficial when a man presents with no sperm in his ejaculate but he still produces sperm in his testes. A simple outpatient procedure allows one of our urologists to extract sperm directly from the testicle,” adds Widra.

To learn more about how technology is helping patients overcome infertility at SGF, call the SGF New Patient Center at 1-888-761-1967 or complete this brief form to schedule a consult with a specialist.

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