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Artificial 'womb' may give IVF embryos a better start

Ailsa Taylor

Progress Educational Trust

01 August 2007

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[BioNews, London] Preliminary research, presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting held in Lyon, France, earlier this month, suggests that a novel 'womb-on-a-chip' device may help to improve IVF success rates.

The 2 millimetre wide chip, developed by Dr Teruo Fuji and colleagues at the University of Tokyo in Japan, acts like an artificial womb to nurture fertilised embryos - up to 20 at a time - to the stage at which they can be implanted into a real womb.

According to the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, over 30,000 women in the UK undergo IVF each year. However the success rates associated with conventional IVF methods are as low as 1 in 5, meaning that most of these expensive IVF cycles do not result in a successful pregnancy.

Washing or moving the eggs during IVF treatment, a process which can cause harmful temperature or acidity changes, might be one possible reason for the low success rates seen in IVF says Dr Matt Wheeler from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, who is also working on automated IVF systems.

Fuji's team believe that the new chip, which avoids these disruptive washing and moving processes, is closer to the real thing: 'We are providing the embryos with a much more comfortable environment, mimicking what happens in the body', he told New Scientist.

Inside the chip, cells from the lining of the womb are cultured to provide nutrients to the growing embryos, helping them to develop to the stage at which they can be implanted into a real womb.

To test the device, the researchers carried out several experiments on mice, comparing the chip-grown embryos with those produced using conventional IVF.

Their findings suggest that the chip-grown embryos outperformed conventional IVF embryos in several ways:

* More were successfully fertilised (43 out of 50, compared with 41 out of 50).

* More developed to the stage at which they could be implanted into a real mother (35 out of 50 compared to 32 out of 50).

* They grew faster (containing around 77-119 cells compared to 58-94 cells, after 2 days).

* More continued to develop when implanted into female mice (44% compared to 40%).

Dr Wheeler commented: 'It's not just about more embryos surviving to be implanted...They also seem to be doing better once they are implanted'.

Following these successful experiments in mice, Fuji's team have now been granted permission to begin trails on human embryos later this year.

© Copyright Progress Educational Trust

Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.

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Date Added: 01 August 2007   Date Updated: 01 August 2007
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