Australia boasts some of the best IVF success rates in the world but there remain individuals and couples who still fail to establish an ongoing pregnancy. Success rates fall steeply in a woman’s late thirties yet this is now the average age for couples seeking help. Female age in particular effects the number and quality of eggs and embryos.
An innovative collaboration announced today aims to improve the outlook for both infertile individuals and couples. A dramatic improvement in the ability to advise potential parents on their chances of success with IVF and to help doctors and scientists select the best quality embryos to implant are just two aims of the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Systems Biology Institute (SBI), Monash IVF and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI).
The agreement, between these three internationally renowned research organisations with broad international links, heralds a completely new approach to research into IVF and early human development. The idea is to apply the latest computing and optic techniques towards integrating and analysing a huge diversity of information ranging from the lifestyle characteristics of patients to the inner workings of individual embryonic cells.
This will be the first major collaboration resulting from SBI Australia, a node of Japan’s Systems Biology Institute established last year at Monash University. The institute looks forward to bringing together more researchers across the life sciences to pursue research using systems biology approach.
“Applying maths and engineering methods to biological research allows us to understand complex systems,” says Dr Sarah Boyd, who’s leading the establishment of SBI Australia. “With software and algorithms designed at the Systems Biology Institute, we hope to trace the development of a whole embryo, which will allow us to make better decisions about IVF treatment. The end goal is reduced risk and better outcomes for families.”
Monash IVF has long been a leader in IVF research; this agreement will utilise the clinical expertise of Monash IVF and examine the many factors which affect the growth of embryos and implantation. And in turn, Monash IVF will be able to use their findings to improve the likelihood of successful IVF treatment for couples.
“This agreement opens the door for better communication and expertise between the three organisations,” says Professor Rob McLachlan, from Monash IVF. “We’re bridging the gap between basic research and clinical practice. Monash IVF is able to contribute unique expertise and insight into to this research and we’ll use the findings to help families achieve success sooner.”
The three organisations bring complementary skills and resources to the table. The Systems Biology Institute is an international organisation which can provide access to new technology and new methods to unravel complete biological systems. ARMI, also at Monash, has laboratories, equipment and expertise in studying cells and embryonic development. And Monash IVF is a well-established private company providing assisted reproduction services with a long history of clinical research in human reproduction. “In the course of its work over the past 40 years, Monash IVF has gathered a large amount of clinical information; treatment cycles outcomes and the IVF offspring. The MOU will provide a means to unlock this information for computer analysis, to look for patterns of characteristics which contribute to the success and risks of IVF” says A/Prof Luk Rombauts, Monash IVF Clinical Research Director. Monash IVF can also provide a means by which any practical findings under the MOU can be rapidly trialled and implemented in the clinic.
Initially, three broad project areas are being considered, all focusing on improving outcomes for the infertile individual. “The first will focus on embryo selection to further increase the likelihood of a Monash IVF patient achieving a pregnancy in the shortest possible time. This will involve the use of non-harmful, optical-microscope techniques invented at ARMI, combined with sophisticated bio-image analysis software invented by SBI, to track in three dimensions the patterns of development of living early embryos and then match them to IVF success.
A second project, using both research and clinical expertise, will explore how closely early mouse development parallels early human development. While we have a quite detailed understanding of how cells interact and orient themselves in early mouse embryos, we do not yet know exactly how that relates to human development.
The third project will address the need to ensure dynamic quality assurance procedures which can also inform clinical and laboratory decision making thereby improving IVF outcomes. Algorithms designed at the Systems Biology Institute in conjunction with Monash IVF experience will analyse each of the numerous steps in the IVF process to produce quantitative quality parameters.