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8 July 2013
Ultra-cheap IVF "feasible and effective," say scientists

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology shows that low-cost IVF for developing and poor resource countries is feasible and effective, with success rates not much different from those achieved in conventional IVF programs. This proof-of-principle study, say the researchers, suggests that infertility treatments could now be made universally accessible.

The new IVF methodology is significantly simplified, using a device that fits in a shirt pocket. The estimated cost of the simplified laboratory system, developed at the University of Colorado, is estimated to be around only 10 percent of current Western-style IVF programs. The team estimates that a cycle of IVF with the simplified procedure can be performed for around US$250.00.

The low-cost IVF culture system is designed to go anywhere, including off the grid, allowing it to be independent of the complex and costly infrastructure required by IVF programs in the developed world. "The system uses low-cost components, does not require complex microprocessor controlled incubators and is a closed system that generates its own unique atmospheric and culture conditions required for normal fertilization and embryogenesis using inexpensive, common chemicals," said Jonathan Van Blerkom, who developed the device.

The device is based on an incubator system consisting of two sealed glass tubes. A chemical reaction initiated by combining baking soda and citric acid in the first sealed glass tube generates an atmosphere that includes a specific percentage of carbon dioxide. The atmosphere is then transferred into the second glass tube holding the culture medium.

The connection between the two glass tubes - needles and tubing - can easily be removed once the equilibrium between the two glass tubes is achieved. Eggs and sperm are then injected by syringe into the tube containing the culture medium without disturbing the air environment inside the tube. Van Blerkom reports that, to date, 12 healthy babies have been born using the new method.

Van Blerkom and his colleagues envision the construction of low-cost modular buildings that can be shipped in standard containers and powered by the sun. The facilities would resemble walk-in closets where trained technicians can perform IV fertilization using the new method. "These operators do not need courses in molecular or cellular biology, and they don't need to worry about electricity and incubators," he said. "They just need to know the simple steps to go through to achieve IV fertilization."

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Source: University of Colorado at Boulder, European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology

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