New embryo research could improve IVF rates and pave way for non-hormonal pill

Researchers hope the discovery will help ‘empower women by allowing them to better control their fertility’

Saman Javed
Thursday 02 December 2021 17:14 GMT
IVF of a female egg through microscope
IVF of a female egg through microscope (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Louise Thomas

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New research could pave the way for creating a non-hormonal form of contraception and improve success rates of IVF.

Scientists at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Services believe they have discovered a “promising pathway” for a new contraceptive pill that only needs to be taken when necessary.

This removes the burden of stress associated with taking the pill daily and may also result in fewer side effects compared to hormonal pills, researchers said.

This would also make contraceptive pills more widely accessible as some women, such as breast cancer survivors, cannot undergo hormonal treatments.

In the study, published in the Nature journal, scientists used human blastoids – human tissue structures that mimic early-stage human embryos – to examine the key phases an embryo goes through in early development.

In the first week of fertilisation, human embryos form a ball of cells, called a blastocyst, which implants in the wall of the uterus.

To replicate this, the blastoids were cultured for up to 13 days, by which point they contained 300 cells.

By mimicking these early stages, researchers discovered molecules that could be used in development of a non-hormonal contraceptive.

Nicolas Rivron, one of the authors of the study, said the team hopes the molecules could “make family planning easier, more convenient, and more adapted to current societal challenges”.

Researchers also discovered a new effect of an existing molecule, called lysophosphatidic acid.

According to the study, under this new effect, the molecule can improve the self-organisation of stem cells and as a result, boost the formation of embryos during IVF treatment.

“We hope we can use such molecules to improve the number and quality of IVF embryos, and the chance of becoming pregnant,” Rivron said.

“Our goal is to empower women by allowing them to better control their fertility, whether they wish to prevent pregnancy or enhance their chances of having a child.”

“By using blastoids we speed up research and make it more ethical. It is clear that scientific and biomedical knowledge will skyrocket with such realistic in vitro models for early pregnancy.”

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