Scottish IVF study compares fresh and frozen embryos in UK-first trial

Embryo selection for IVF.

Embryo selection for IVF.

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IVF births using frozen embryos will be compared to births from ‘fresh’ embryos in a landmark trial led by Scottish scientists.

In the past it was argued that using frozen embryos could result in fewer births but current research suggests the technique can lead to a lower chance of haemorrhage, premature birth and deaths in the first few weeks of life.

Researchers at Aberdeen University are investigating which method produces the greater number of healthy babies, alongside considering the health of the mother and costs to the NHS for both the procedure and later impact of caring for premature babies.

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More than 1,000 couples will be recruited for the trial, which is the first of its kind to ever be run in the UK and could affect the future of every aspect of IVF.

Lead investigator Dr Abha Maheshwari made headlines in 2012 when she published a paper calling for a debate into whether freezing embryos is healthier for mother and baby than using fresh embryos.

She said: “Since our 2012 paper, support for our view that frozen embryos can lead to better, or at least equal results to using fresh embryos has gained more support and it is generally accepted that the quality of the embryo is not compromised via the freezing process.

“Using frozen embryos is potentially also better for the mother as we avoid the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, which can make mothers extremely ill and can require hospital admission and, in some rare cases, even lead to death.

“This trial will help to gather robust data allowing us to compare the advantages and disadvantages of each method in a large number of couples.”

Participating couples will be randomly split into two groups, where the ‘fresh’ group will have their embryos created and transferred in the same week, whilst the ‘frozen’ group will have the transfer completed within three months of embryo creation.

A healthy birth will be considered as when a baby is delivered after 37 weeks at a normal weight.

Dr Maheshwari, an honorary clinical senior lecturer at Aberdeen University, said: “Another aspect that we will be considering is the cost of each method to the NHS and the long-term cost to society.

“There are financial implications for caring for a preterm baby, for example, so these are aspects that will be taken into account.

“We are all excited about getting this trial up and running. It has already received publicity at conferences and the fact that 12 centres across the UK will participate in this trial is testament to how interested the medical community is in evaluating the use of frozen embryos which in future could affect almost every aspect of IVF.”

Recruitment for the study started this week and the trial is expected to run until the end of 2017.

It is being conducted in collaboration with the NPEU Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford University.

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