Scientists in Australia and Belgium have found a way to make the fertility treatment called in vitro maturation (IVM) cheaper and less invasive using growth factors. They say this method enhances egg quality, increases embryos and only needs minimal use of drug.

The research team added a combination of a growth factor (cumulin) and cAMP-modulators (small signalling molecules) to the egg cells, unlike the current IVM method that involves administering high doses of hormones. According to researchers from the University of South Wales, University of Adelaide, UZ Brussel at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the medical device manufacturer Cook Medical, this study has been in development for 15 years. They are now awaiting approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

When they used the method in pigs, they found that the egg quality and embryo yield improved. When they experimented with human eggs, they found that this new IVM method also increased the egg quality as well as the embryo yield by up to 50 percent.

This is just as effective as hormone-stimulated in vitro fertilization, which doctors prefer over existing IVM. Michel De Vos from UZ Brussel adds that the use of IVM also decreases the chances of developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) to zero.

The team says this enhanced IVM technique does not cause any long-term effects to a child’s health. This new approach can also be used by women with cancer who do not have time to freeze their eggs but want to preserve their fertility.

“The aim of our research has been to restore, as far as possible, the natural processes that occur during egg maturation,” points out Robert Gilchrist, an associate professor at the UNSW’s School of Women’s and Children’s Health. ”We have demonstrated that it is possible to improve egg quality and embryo yield with next to no drugs using potent growth factors produced by the egg.”