3 July 2020

Melbourne IVF receives $168k funding for research

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Virtus Health

A Melbourne IVF research project investigating the development of embryos has been awarded a $168,000 grant over two years, announced today by the FORWARD Initiative.

The FORWARD Initiative grant program funds fertility research to foster worldwide innovation in reproductive medical research. 

“We are delighted that Melbourne IVF researchers have been recognised by the FORWARD Initiative which funds important fertility research,” said Professor David Gardner, Scientific Director at Melbourne IVF and Group Director of ART, Scientific Innovation and Research of Virtus Health.

“We are proud to be one of the very few organisations worldwide to receive a FORWARD grant. The grants are highly-competitive and I congratulate our team of researchers. 

“Melbourne IVF has forged a strong research record and it’s these types of partnerships that benefit our overall goal of driving innovation in order to increase the chance of pregnancy,” said Professor Gardner. 

The research project aims to investigate abnormally fertilized embryos, in order to identify more embryos for clinical use. 

Professor Gardner explains that during an IVF cycle, eggs are combined with sperm and the following day scientists check the egg has been fertilised using a microscope. They check the egg for two small circles, the pronuclei, which each represent the DNA from either the egg or the sperm. 

“In normal embryo development, DNA from the egg and from the sperm will combine, and provide all the necessary instructions for the growing embryo and fetus. 

“Embryos that have both pronuclei, indicating that they appear to have a set of DNA, or chromosomes, from both the egg and the sperm (diploid), are thought to have fertilized normally. These are left to grow inside the incubator until the blastocyst-stage (5-6 days inside the incubator). 

“However, approximately 5% of eggs do not fertilise normally, which means they do not have two pronuclei. International IVF guidelines classify these type of embryos as abnormal and recommend they aren’t transferred to the woman's uterus. It’s thought they have a lower chance of pregnancy and a higher chance of miscarriage.

“However, recent research from a small number of worldwide studies has shown that some of the abnormally fertilised embryos are actually diploid, despite the incorrect number of pronuclei.

“Consequently, Melbourne IVF want to investigate, in a larger study, the development of one pronucleus and three pronuclei embryos.  We plan to test them at the blastocyst stage using Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT) to establish if they have the correct number of sets of chromosomes. 

“This research could help determine future clinical guidelines and give patients the option to test and transfer genetically normal embryos, particularly for older women that may not have many options left,” said Professor Gardner. 

The research will commence March 2021 across the entire network of Virtus Health clinics in Australia. 

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