It is not a secret that undergoing IVF is very expensive. Hopeful parents-to-be spend upwards of $12,000 per session plus also shoulder the cost of medications which can be between $3,000 and $5,000 – figures that not everybody can afford. Good thing that the high cost of IVF can be a thing of the past thanks to a new research that begun with a study concerning piglets.
A Chance Discovery
Bond Life Sciences Center investigator and MU Curators Distinguished Professor of Animal Sciences R. Michael Roberts and College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Curators Distinguished Professor Randall Prather were conducting a study with pig stem cells to find out how they communicate, proliferate, and grow in the body when they stumbled upon an exciting find. During an attempt to improve the procedure to grow the pig stem cells in their lab, they discovered that using a special liquid medium dramatically improved the success rate of IVF in pigs.
Roberts shared that the discovery was truly serendipitous. He added that generally speaking, multiple steps are needed to produce viable pig embryos that can be used for implantation in their research. They wanted to find a more efficient way because going through the steps is very expensive and can sometimes produce poor returns. What they found is not only that but also has major implications for use in human fertility clinics too.
Persistence Pays Off
Roberts stated that in IVF for pigs, going through the steps of the current procedure often mean that only 1% to 2% of the original oocytes can make it to the phase where they can be implanted to sows (to produce healthy piglets). Although this can be somehow addressed by over-implantation of embryos, the resulting cost is too expensive.
Roberts then tasked his former research assistant professor Ye Yuan and senior research specialist in Animal Sciences Lee Spate to find a way to increase the quality and efficiency of piglet embryos before they are implanted.
The team then analyzed various growth factors and made a bold move to add two factors, a leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) and fibroblast growth factor 2 (FGF2). They then found out that together with a third factor, an insulin-like growth factor; these two factors created a special liquid environment that the oocytes needed to make them ready for implantation and improve their development to embryos with an increased chance of a successful pregnancy.
New Fluid Medium for IVF Sparks Possibilities
The three compounds used by the research team is now called the chemical medium FLI and is currently being hailed as a new fluid medium that can revolutionize both human IVF treatments and pig IVF treatments. The team has already filed a patent application through the MU Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations in the hopes of encouraging the commercial application of the new method.
Roberts further added that using the new fluid medium improved the whole process of pig IVF. He shares that it almost doubled the maturation of oocytes. He went on to say that although improving IVF for women with fertility issues wasn’t their reason for developing the fluid medium, the fact that their find can have a huge positive impact on human fertility is a welcome development.