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Fertility Research Round-Up

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Last week was the annual meeting for the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology. Members met in Stockholm, Sweden, and reported on the latest fertility research findings. To follow is a round-up of some of the research that came out of the meeting.

Gum disease can affect fertility, so make sure you are brushing and flossing regularly.

Periodontal disease can delay conception by as much as two months, according to an Australian medical study, and it can be as bad for fertility as being seriously overweight.

Researchers studied 3,416 pregnant women and found that it took women with gum disease an average of over seven months to become pregnant compared to an average of five months for women with healthy gums. The researchers suspect that inflammation caused by oral bacteria has a negative effect on the reproductive system.

With a new model called the Pregnancy Viability Index (PVI), doctors may be better able to predict which pregnancies run a higher risk of miscarriage.

Approximately 20 percent of pregnancies threaten to miscarry, and out of those 20 percent, about 1 in 5 does. British researchers followed 112 women who were at risk of miscarrying and measured factors with a known a risk of miscarriage, including a history of subfertility, levels of progesterone, levels of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG, a hormone produced during pregnancy), the length of the fetus, how much bleeding had occurred and the gestational age of the baby.

The researchers found that combining two factors — the amount of bleeding and the levels of hCG — led to a useful model (the Pregnancy Viability Index, or PVI) for predicting who would miscarry. The PVI was able to accurately determine the outcome of pregnancy in 94 percent of the women who gave birth and predict miscarriages in 77 percent of the cases.

It is never too late to stop smoking — women who quit at time of conception are likely to have normal birtweight babies.

Smoking has very detrimental effects on babies, causing them to be lower birthweight, along with all the associated risks. British researchers studying the outcomes of 50,000 pregnancies found that the more a woman smokes, the less the baby will weigh at birth — those who smoked more than 10 a day had babies weighing some 11 oz less than the average birth weight from a non-smoking mother (about 7lb 10 oz).

However, those women who stopped smoking at about the time they conceived or when they found out they were pregnant were just as likely to give birth to a normal weight baby as those who had never smoked. The study also found that health development during pregnancy without exposure to smoke also helps limit the chances of premature birth, which can cause brain damage and congenital defects, such as cleft lip. This is the first time health experts have proven that it is never to late for moms-to-be to kick the smoking habit in order to improve the health of their babies.

Overweight men have a lower sperm count.

Just like women, overweight or obese men have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a study conducted by a network of Swiss-based labs in 12 European countries.

The researchers looked at sperm samples from 1,940 men and matched them to the donor's weight and body mass index (BMI). They found that the higher the count in excess weight, the more the sperm quality suffered, especially among those in the obese category. According to the researchers, excess weight causes a modification in sperm characteristics, probably as a result of hormonal disturbance, which results in lower sperm numbers, motility and vitality.

’IVF checklist’ model decreases multiple birth risk in IVF pregnancies.

Swedish researchers have found a new method they say reduces the risk of multiple births from IVF without decreasing the chances of having a baby. The model factors in the woman's age, the number of eggs and the ovarian responsiveness, information about whether the woman had had previous IVF attempts and the quality of the embryos.

Over four years the Swedish fertility clinic transferred 3,410 embryos. The model helped reduce the rate of twins in IVF pregnancies from about 26 percent in the preceding four-year period to 1.9 percent.

Test designed to spot chromosome abnormalities in eggs could help older women determine their chances of having an IVF baby.

A test that counts the sets of chromosomes in eggs during stages of the maturation process known as meiosis may revolutionize fertility, allowing older women to better determine their changes of having an IVF baby. The test allows fertility doctors to vet imbalances in chromosome numbers that cause embryo abnormalities/miscarriages, as well as the additional chromosome 21, which causes Down syndrome, by looking at something called a polar body, a tiny by-product cell.

British researchers examined eggs provided by 34 women over age 40 who were undergoing IVF and compared polar bodies left from two meisosis stages with the egg after it was fertilized. The test helps pinpoint healthy eggs and damaged eggs, which allows doctors to advise a woman whether it is worth the emotional and financial investment to try for a pregnancy.

Women with recurrent miscarriages can still have a healthy baby.

A woman who has had repeated miscarriages has the same chance at having a healthy baby as a woman who has never miscarried, according to two new studies that followed the outcomes of women with unexplained recurrent miscarriage.

A Danish study that involved nearly 1,000 women found that approximately two-thirds went on to have at least one child, usually within five years of being diagnosed and referred to a recurrent miscarriage clinic and often within a year of being seen. In another study conducted in the Netherlands with 213 women, researchers found that that more than 70 percent became pregnant after a year of trying to get pregnant, rising to more than 80 percent after two years of trying.

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