A new test that can detect if the eggs produced by a woman are defective may prove to be a boon for wannabe mothers who opt for in-vitro fertlisation (IVF). Till now woman would routinely subject themselves to a series of failed IVF attempts without realizing they carried defective eggs, which would produce abnormal children.
It’s a technique that would have saved 49-year-old Umesh Chandrashekhar and his 42-year-old wife five failed IVF attempts. Three of their IVF tries were in the UK and two in Coimbatore. “We started the procedure in 1990 in Bristol, UK, where I was posted. After coming back to India, we even tried unsuccessfully with donor eggs. I’ve ended up spending Rs 15 lakh on this but to no end,” says Chandrashekhar, a Delhi-based marketing executive.
The couple might have been spared the trouble, expense and heartache of repeated IVF attempts had there been a way to ascertain the viability of eggs. But this new technique now available in the city may change all that. Medical experts at Delhi’s Hospital explain the procedure as follows: “A healthy egg contain a spindle which holds the complete genetic package. Some eggs don’t contain it. A special imaging system called spindle view, in use abroad since 2003 and now available in India, makes it easy to check that.”
Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, fertility expert at SCI Healthcare says, “If there’s no spindle, either the woman has a miscarriage or the baby is abnormal, with defects like Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy.” The patient has to undergo one IVF cycle to harvest the eggs. “They can’t be taken out straightaway to check if the spindle is there or not. They have to be stimulated first. An average of three cycle yield goof IVF results,” she says.
So why are the eggs abnormal? Age has a lot to do with it. “For women, 37 is the watershed year. Genetic factors also cause this problem,” says Dr Gour, adding that conditions have to strictly controlled for this procedure to work well. A specific body temperature of 37 degrees has to be maintained. Any aberration can damage a good egg or not show the spindle, thereby giving wrong results.
“Injection of the sperm inside the egg has to be done with great care so it doesn’t damage the eggs and cause any abnormalities. So we ensure the needle doesn’t damage the delicate spindle,” says Dr Hrishikesh Pai, fertility expert at Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai.
The screening in non-invasive and adds another Rs 10,000 to the cost of IVF procedure, bringing the total cost to Rs 1.1 lakh. Gour says “the technique is advanced, quite accurate and doesn’t damage the eggs”.
For Chandrashekhar though, five failed attempt were enough to call it quits. “Neither operates in mysterious ways. And we did finally get a happy resolution by adopting an 18 months old girl in August. She has filled the vacuum in our lives.”
According to a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research there are approximately 1.6-1.6 million infertile couple in India. Half of the women have abnormal eggs or blocked fallopian tubes. For them, there are significant gains in detecting abnormal eggs at the outset.
The technique will also boost India’s growing reputation as a popular location for IVF treatment. It’s relatively low costs, excellent infrastructure, foreign-trained doctors and few legal hassles has already attracted many foreign couples desperate for a baby. In the UK and US, IVF costs a whopping Rs 7 lakh per cycle, including fertility drugs and lab procedures, but here, it is one-seventh of that. Besides, says Dr Gour, in the UK, only two embryos at a time can be put back into the woman after treatment. There’s no such stipulation in India.