The University of Granada and MARGen Clinic are now offering patients a non-invasive liquid biopsy for embryo selection.

The technique allows doctors to detect possible genetic anomalies through a liquid biopsy of the liberated DNA in the culture medium. It is considered a big step forward because, in the past, these tests could only be conducted by removing one or various cells from the embryo itself, to carry out what is known as a ‘solid biopsy’. The latter has been a matter of debate among scientists because invasive interventions on embryos can produce later health risks for the children who are born through IVF.

The agreement to put the technique into practice was formalised by Dr. Jan Tesarik (of the MARGen Clinic in Granada) and Dr. David Landeira (Professor of the Molecular Biochemistry II Department of the University of Granada). The collaboration between these two prestigious scientific institutions will set the technique in motion so that IVF teams will be able to evaluate chromosomal abnormalities in a completely non-invasive fashion, prior to selection of embryos to be implanted in the patient’s uterus.

The new technique allows doctors to significantly reduce the rates of diagnostic errors. As mentioned above, it will also reduce risks to a baby’s health linked to solid biopsies. With the old technique, some cells were inevitably destroyed. Today, the use of embryo cells are not required, since DNA is obtained from the culture used to develop embryos prior to the moment of transfer. It improves accuracy of the results but also the integrity and safety of the embryos being examined.

Dr. Tesarik stated, “We now have a new, non-invasive technique that allows us to select embryos that have no chromosomal anomalies with greater precision and with a lower hypothetical health risk.” Dr. Landeira adds, “The technique allows us to select embryos with a lower probability of chromosomal anomalies via analysis of a material that used to simply be thrown away.”

World Breakthroughs

The above development is just one of many that are making IVF easier, more accurate, and safer than in the past. Additional developments include an improvement in egg freezing technology, which brings the survival rate of frozen eggs up to about 95 per cent; the extension of the life of lab embryos to up to 13 days (which allows for greater insight into the embryonic stage of development); and minimal stimulation IVF (which produces fewer but good quality eggs, while being kinder to the body).

One technique, called three-person IVF, is causing quite an uproar – since it involves adding the DNA of a third person (a female donor), to help protect against genetic diseases. The baby obtains just 0.1 per cent of its DNA from the donor, but this can reduce the chances of them developing specific diseases later in life.

Younger Woman are Having Fertility Tests

Another interesting development in this realm is the fact that routine fertility testing is now becoming more common – even for women in their 20s and 30s. This process involves a simple blood test and ultrasound to check for the number of healthy eggs a woman has. It is an important process to undergo because results can indicate if freezing eggs for the future is recommended. It enables women to take a proactive stance rather than wait until it is ‘too late’. To freeze eggs, women first undergo ovarian stimulation then egg retrieval. Once the doctor obtains the maximum number of eggs possible, the eggs are cooled to subzero temperatures and kept in a secure storage facility until they are required for use.

Pertinent Statistics

These and so many more breakthroughs are enabling couples to have babies later in life. In the UK, since 2014, frozen IVF treatment cycles have increased by 39 per cent and in Spain, around 8 per cent of all babies are born via IVF! This amounts to 34,000 babies per year – great news indeed for those whose dream is to have a biological child. In Spain, around 47 per cent of all IVF cycles with own oocytes occur in patients aged 35 to 39. Meanwhile, 68 per cent of cycles completed with the donation of ovules occur in patients older than 40. The data indicates the effect that age has on female fertility, but also shows that advanced age is not the obstacle it used to be.

Global Fertility Decline

The National Center for Health Statistics in the US has noted that fertility rates in the US have declined considerably in the past decade, with rates reduced by 9 per cent in rural areas and 8 per cent in large metropolitan cities. The UK and other parts of the world show similar trends, with the BBC noting that more economically developed countries (including most of Europe, the US, South Korea and Australia) have lower fertility rates.

The reasons for declining fertility rates include greater access to contraception, and the fact that more women are choosing to study and work. Of course, this does not mean their ability to procreate is affected. Rather, fertility rates are calculated by looking at the number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime. When the rate drops below 2.1, societies enter a so-called ‘baby bust’ period – and societies start shrinking.

Interestingly, in China, the population is booming! Since it moved away from its one-child policy, the population has grown from around half a billion in 1950 to 1.4 billlion today! Even this country needs more children to be born to maintain its population, though, since its fertility rate stands at only 1.5!