Birth Signs
Local advances in fertility increase couples’ odds of starting, or building upon, a family
by Jennifer Updike

Infertility, or the inability to achieve pregnancy after one year of trying (or six months, if the woman is over 35 years old), is an increasingly common—and increasingly frustrating—problem for couples at home. Sharon Anderson, Ph.D., lab/scientific director for Main Line Fertility Center in Bryn Mawr, estimates that the condition affects one out of eight couples in the United States.

“By the time a woman is in her mid-30s, up to 30 percent to 60 percent of her eggs may be genetically abnormal, and the percent of abnormal eggs increases each year as a woman ages,” says Anderson. “After fertilization, these abnormal embryos may fail to grow and implant, others may result in miscarriage, and still others may result in having a baby with a chromosomal abnormality.”  

Thankfully, ever-progressive technologies and techniques combine to assist couples in their quest to conceive. Recent developments in reproductive medicine can help improve the chances of achieving pregnancy after in vitro fertilization (IVF). This includes a new technology cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that utilizes time-lapse videography of embryo development, which helps physicians select the healthiest embryos for transfer back to a woman’s uterus.

The new technology, called Eeva (short for “early embryo viability assessment”), provides measurable information that can be used in addition to traditional morphology to aid in deciding which embryo to transfer, according to Anderson, who also holds an adjunct faculty appointment in the department of OB/GYN of Drexel University College of Medicine. Eeva’s proprietary software, she says, assesses the timing of important changes in embryo development to differentiate among embryos that look equally healthy.   

“The new noninvasive Eeva Test is based on groundbreaking research and innovation licensed from Stanford University, which was recognized for its clinical relevance as a ‘Top 10 Medical Breakthrough’ by TIME magazine,” she says. “Researchers are collecting imaging data on embryos and correlating Eeva parameters with genetic screening of embryos to increase healthy outcomes even more.”

Another significant advance in reproductive medicine is the use of preimplantation genetic screening of embryos in IVF, according to Larry I. Barmat, M.D., one of the board-certified fertility specialist at Abington Reproductive Medicine. The advancement enables patients to maximize their chance of pregnancy and minimize pregnancy-related complications.

“Our mission as infertility physicians is to assist patients in reaching their goals of completing their family in a responsible and efficient manner,” he says. “This entails seamless communication between the physician, nursing staff and our patients providing the couple with all the appropriate information to make educated decisions regarding their care.”

Practices such as Abington Reproductive Medicine are now able to utilize the most advanced molecular biologic techniques, such as array-based comparative genomic hybridization and next-generation sequencing, to gain highly accurate insight into the genetic competency of embryos.

“Since the most common cause of embryos failure to implant is aneuploidy (incorrect number of chromosomes), we can now culture/grow a patient’s embryos to day five or six at which time the embryologist microsurgically removes a few cells for genetic analysis,” says Dr. Barmat. “With this powerful information, we are now able to transfer one euploid (correct number of chromosomes) embryo back to the patient and maximize the chance of a successful singleton pregnancy, while preventing the potential complications associated with multiple gestations.”

This “new paradigm in IVF,” as Dr. Barmat calls it, is currently evolving and being offered at Abington Reproductive Medicine, which has office locations in Abington, Doylestown, East Norriton, Lancaster, Langhorne, Lansdale and Paoli.

Practices that specialize in solving infertility problems understand that such problems can cause some of the most stressful times of a couple’s life together. In fact, struggling to achieve what comes “so easy” to couples who can conceive without special assistance can lead to anxiety, depression and other troubles that can affect, if not derail, even the strongest of relationships. For this reason, many practices offer programs that help couples cope with the issue and relate to each other. Although fertility specialists can significantly increase a couple’s chances of conceiving, timing is an ever-present issue.

“If you are having trouble getting pregnant, don’t wait until it is too late,” says Anderson. “Seek advice from a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility who can offer the latest assisted reproductive technologies.”

Due Diligence

Couples in the Philadelphia area who need guidance when it comes to conceiving have a number of resources in their proverbial backyard. The following are some of the most trusted.

Abington Reproductive Medicine | 215-887-2010

Doylestown Women’s Health | 215-340-2229

Main Line Fertility | 610-527-0800

Shady Grove Fertility | 888-761-1967