Australian scientists develop new embryo screening test to reduce miscarriages

Danielle Le Messurier, The Daily Telegraph
May 26, 2019 11:23pm

A new “non-invasive” test to screen embryos for genetic disorders like Down syndrome has been developed by Australian fertility scientists who say it will reduce miscarriages and the time it takes to achieve a healthy live birth.

Scientists at Monash IVF Group — one of the country’s largest IVF providers — also say it will cost almost half the amount of the current screening test because there is no need for an embryo biopsy, which requires labour intensive microsurgery.

Only the strongest embryos can be tested under this system and as a result many patients miss out on the screening if there is a risk their embryos will not survive the procedure.

But scientists are now able to extract fragments of DNA from the fluid around the embryo without touching it in a world-first scientific breakthrough.

This will allow all embryos to be tested even if they are lagging in development.

Monash IVF medical director Professor Luk Rombauts said many women seek IVF treatment later in life when the risk of chromosomal disorders is highest.

“Chromosomal disorders don’t just lead to babies born with Down syndrome … a lot of those chromosomally abnormal embryos either won’t take to begin with so it makes it more difficult to fall pregnant,” he said.

“Secondly, if they fall pregnant mother nature is pretty good at selecting them but it means you fall pregnant and miscarry.”

“So this testing will increase the chance people will fall pregnant when they have a transfer and it will reduce the chance that they will have a miscarriage once they are pregnant.”

One in six Australian couples are affected by infertility.

Prof Rombauts said that while the biopsy test was not harmful for the majority of embryos there was always a “lingering concern” it could do damage.

“Let’s say you had three embryos and one of those three was lost — it’s still less than one per cent across all the embryos we biopsy but for you it’s one out of three,” he said.

Test inventor professor Michelle Lane said the new test was much more straightforward than the current technique.

“This is really going to change the way that we as a field of science assess embryos for viability,” she said.

“It will help us better rank embryos so we can choose the strongest and best embryos to put up for patients.”

Prof Rombauts said the new test will cost $495 and is significantly cheaper than the previous screening test which costs $800.

It will become available at Monash clinics across the country today.

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