Highlights from 2009 European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology Meeting
"From Gamete to Heartbeat: The Missing Link" This was a post-graduate course offered in conjunction with the meeting. The course covered sperm and egg evaluation,
expression of genes in the early embryo and in the endometrium (uterine lining) and some of the latest research into basic embryo implantation mechanisms. One of the interesting talks was on gene expression in the early embryo. We have come to believe that the differences in pregnancy rates between younger and older women is mainly due to an increase in the number of abnormal chromosomes in embryos from women as they age (such as increased risk for Down Syndrome). However, this only explains part of the differences in successful pregnancy in younger compared to older mothers. New research into expression of proteins from embryonic genes is showing that in both chromosomally normal and abnormal embryos, there are differences in the number and types of genes encoding proteins in younger and older women. This suggests that it is not just changes in the number of chromosomes but subtler differences in the way individual genes are being expressed that affect the developmental competence of their embryos. Determining which genes and proteins are involved, and what the mechanisms are for regulating the expression of these genes in early embryos, will be an area of focused research in the coming years. **Hyaluronic Acid (HA) favors selection of spermatozoa with intact DNA and normal nucleus, resulting in improvement of embryo quality (Bologna, Italy)** This presentation (Parmegiani, et al.) looked at the percentage of sperm showing DNA fragmentation based on several methods of sperm preparation for IVF-ICSI (in vitro fertilization with intracellular sperm injection). They compared sperm in the fresh specimen 30 minutes after ejaculation, sperm that had been processed with a standard swim-up technique, and sperm that were placed in PVP (polyvinyl propylene), a substance used to slow sperm down so they can be picked up from a culture dish just prior to injection into the eggs. Lastly, they looked at sperm that had been placed into dishes that contain a ring of hyaluronic acid at the bottom of the dish, a substance to which some sperm will automatically bind. They looked at the percentage of sperm showing total or partial fragmentation of the DNA with each of these steps in the sperm preparation process. In the freshly ejaculated sperm, the DNA fragmentation was 16.5% of tested sperm. In the swim-up sperm prep, 11% were fragmented and in the PVP-exposed sperm, it was also 11%. Sperm that had bound to hyaluronic acid showed the least amount of fragmentation, at 5.3%. These findings suggest that using HA binding to select sperm for sperm injection may result in fewer abnormalities in embryos, and possibly higher pregnancy rates. PFC is currently investigating HA binding on our own to see if it is something we would wish to routinely incorporate into IVF. The downside (like everything else!) is that HA plates are expensive. **Stress and Fertility an enlightening symposium** Jacky Boivin, PhD., a researcher from Cardiff University in Wales, presented some very interesting data about the stresses of infertility treatment. She discussed a new study from Alice Domars group in Boston that surveyed why women/couples discontinued IVF treatment before achieving pregnancy (Fertility and Sterility, in press 2009). In this study, 132 women who had insurance coverage for IVF were surveyed. The two main reasons given for dropping out of treatment were the toll that infertility took on the couples relationship and being too anxious or depressed to continue. Among the less common reasons for dropping out were medication-related issues (such as difficulty with injections) and feeling the need for a female doctor. Dr. Boivin also discussed results from her own study that was published in the journal Human Reproduction in 2008. In that study, she developed a copingstratagem for women awaiting results of their treatment (i.e. the time between embryo transfer and first beta hCG). It is known that this is a most anxious time for women and the stress of waiting can become overwhelming. She utilized something called the positive reappraisal coping intervention card, or PRCI card. This is a small printed card that a patient can carry around in his or her pocket and it is meant to be read 2 times per day, every day during the 9-11 days between embryo transfer and first pregnancy test. The card has several little sayings such as: During this experience I will try to do something that makes me feel positive and During this experience I feel that .Im energized or Im creative. This is a way of programming thoughts towards the positive and away from the negative. She and her colleagues were able to show that patient felt less stressed and felt that the PRCI was helpful during this period. Currently, at PFC, we have begun a task force to look into ways to better incorporate counseling and tools for stress management for our patients. [Please also see this recent Patient Odyssey.](http://www.infertilitydoctor.com/2009/10/12/my-story-coping-with-infertility/ "Patient Odyssey") Support groups are a wonderful way to diffuse stress and feel more positive. **Corifollitropin: a modification of Follistim to allow a once-a-week injection.** As most people know, the medication we most commonly use for fertility treatment, Follistim, is pure human FSH, manufactured using recombinant DNA technology. The company that makes Follistim, Schering Plough, is working towards FDA approval of a modified version of Follistim, called Corifollitropin, that will make the drug very long-acting.
For those interested in the details; Corifollitropin is the recombinant FSH molecule + 22 C-terminal peptides from betahCG. It does not bind to the LH receptor. This modification lengthens the half-life of Follistim from 22-34 hours to 60-74 hours for Corifollitropin. The recommended regimen will be one dose per week, starting at baseline, then switch to daily recombinant FSH after that. After injection, peak levels are reached in 2 days then they slowly level. It may be possible to only take one injection per week! A symposium at ESHRE presented information from the ENGAGE trial with data from 14 European and 5 Asian IVF centers, using women with body mass indices (BMIs) between 18 and 32 (generally less than 60 kg -132 lb). The patients were randomized to receive either Corifollitropin or conventional daily recombinant FSH for oocyte recruitment. The number of days of stimulation was the same in both groups (9). The number of eggs retrieved was significantly higher in the Corifollitropin group (13.3) vs. the FSH group (10.6). The rates of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome were the same in both groups (about 3%). The pregnancy rates were 25% in the Corifollitropin group and 34% in the FSH group, a difference that did not quite reach statistical significance. Data were also presented on a second study of Corifollitropin from the U.S. and Europe, comparing two doses of the drug. In the study, 100 mcg/dose was given to women less than or equal to 60 kg and women greater than 60 kg were dosed at 150 mcg. Over 1500 patients were included in this large trial. In this study, the average number of eggs recovered was 13.7 for the Corifollitropin group and 12.5 for the Follistim group. The mature egg and fertilization rates were the same. The percentage of good quality embryos was the same. The clinical pregnancy rate in the Cori group was 38.9% and was 38.1% in the Follistim group. These rates were statistically the same. We expect that Corifollitropin will likely be available in the U.S. in 2010 or 2011.