Virtus Health senior scientist winner of the 2019 Best Basic Science Award at the largest ART scientific meeting in the USA

Women undergoing IVF could soon have a better chance of improving the quality of embryos thanks to scientists who have conducted a pilot study, investigating the role antioxidants play in early embryo development, which this week won the 2019 Best Basic Science Award at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) congress, one of the largest ART scientific meeting internationally.

The study found the presence of antioxidants during IVF and embryo culture significantly increased embryo quality during development in the laboratory, and improved embryo transfer outcome for patients 35 and older.

The study investigated if a combination of three antioxidants - acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and α-lipoic acid (ALA) - added to embryo culture media, has a beneficial effect on resulting embryos.

Professor David Gardner, Scientific Director at Melbourne IVF, part of Virtus Health, and a Distinguished Professor in the School of BioSciences, the University of Melbourne, presented the study findings at ASRM’s 75th anniversary 2019 Scientific Congress (12-16 Oct), held in Philadelphia, USA.

“The exciting findings show implantation rates and ongoing pregnancy rates are significantly higher when we used antioxidant-rich culture media in patients with advanced maternal age,” said Professor Gardner, world-renowned embryologist.

“The results show supplementation of antioxidants to culture media improve the viability of embryos, plausibly through the reduction of oxidative stress and hence improving clinical outcomes in older women.

“The study adds to a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating the important role antioxidants are starting to show in improving early embryo development,” said Professor Gardner.

The study, selected as the 2019 Best Basic Science Award, involving almost 140 patients, assessed 1783 oocytes into different age groups and either allocated the combined antioxidants or standard culture media.

Professor Gardner explains that over the last thirty years he has researched several strategies to protect the embryo during its development in the lab.

“With antioxidants, we have typically focused on one antioxidant at a time. However, more recently we have concentrated on a specific group of antioxidants which work together for greater effect,” said Professor Gardner.

“The benefits of antioxidants are renowned. Antioxidants play a significant role inside our bodies, fighting free radicals but in the laboratory, sperm, eggs and embryos don’t have that luxury,” said Professor Gardner.

After the results of the pilot study, Professor Gardner is now leading a large study, a prospective randomised controlled trial (RCT) investigating whether a combination of three antioxidants - acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and α-lipoic acid (ALA) - can play a role in improving the quality of embryos and pregnancy outcome.

The RCT study, only available to Melbourne IVF patients who are undergoing IVF or ICSI treatment, has recruited its first 400 patients, with a total patient target of 1,200, and is utilising the latest in time-lapse incubators, the EmbryoScope+, providing the best possible environment for the growth of embryos.

If you are interested in participating, or would like to know more about this study, please speak with your doctor or contact our research team at VIC-ClinicalResearch@mivf.com.au