Why are we using Danish sperm donors?

p021bb47You may be interested in a programme I’ve been working on for BBC Radio Four about our increasing use of Danish sperm donors which will be broadcast tomorrow morning at 11 am.

The New Viking Invasion considers the rapid increase in imports of donor sperm from Denmark in recent years, and looks at why this has happened. It’s partly down to the efficient system the Danes offer, but also due to our system in the UK where fertility clinics don’t always have the time or resources to recruit their own donors. Only one in every twenty men who turns up offering to donate will be suitable, and the process of screening donors can be lengthy and costly. In Denmark, they have dedicated sperm banks which don’t do anything else.

Of course, some UK clinics do have donors – but you may not discover that if you don’t happen to go to the right place. Clinics don’t necessarily to want to refer their patients to other clinics – suggesting using a Danish donor is often easier and it means they keep the patient. One couple who feature in the programme had been told they could face a ten year wait for a UK donor – in fact, they later found one without a wait at another UK clinic.

We visited European Sperm Bank in Copenhagen for the programme and spoke to staff and to donors to find out why their system works so well, and spoke to many leading experts in the UK to discuss their views and concerns about our increasing use of Danish donors. You can hear the thoughts of Dr Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, Ruth Wilde of BICA, Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA along with consultants Jane Stewart from Newcastle and Mark Hamilton from Aberdeen in the programme – as well as Danish donors and UK recipients.

“The New Viking Invasion” produced by Steve Urquhart will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 27th June at 11am

 

Another new technique to increase IVF success

I was on Sky News with Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society this morning discussing endometrial scratching. It’s a technique that has been used in some UK fertility clinics for a while now, and involves scratching the lining of the womb before embryos are put back during an IVF or ICSI cycle. At the moment, it is most often used when women have good quality embryos but treatment hasn’t worked, and it seems to improve implantation,

Today’s story was based on a paper being delivered at a conference called the World Conference on Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology by researchers from Nottingham and Brazil which found a large increase in IVF and ICSI success using the technique. It is a promising study, but what we don’t yet know is whether this could be replicated on a larger scale with a wider group of patients.  The average age of the patients in the study appears to be 32, which is an age at which IVF/ICSI  is more likely to be successful – and at which egg quality is likely to be better.

Of course, any steps to further increase IVF success should be welcomed, but being invited to discuss the study on Sky News today, all I could think about was how difficult it is to be a patient facing endless headlines about new research or new techniques which are about to revolutionise the world of assisted conception.  As I’ve said here before, there’s often a big gap between research and reality.  In this case, that’s not quite the case as endometrial scratching is already being offered in the UK – but it’s how and when it is offered that is so crucial.

I did a completely unscientific trawl of clinic websites this morning, and discovered that most were offering it when treatment had been unsuccessful – but the price ranges were fascinating.  We’re being told that this is an inexpensive procedure and one clinic was performing it at no extra charge at all (during an IVF/ICSI/FET cycle where the embryos were good quality but two previous cycles had been unsuccessful), most were charging around the £100 rate and I found one billing patients just shy of £400.

It’s embryo quality which is the other sticking point here. It seems that this technique has a lot to recommend it where there are good embryos, but in women whose fertility is affected by their egg quality (which is predominantly older women) this process may not make the same sort of difference.

So, in conclusion – yes, do ask your consultant about endometrial scratching but do be guided by his or her views on this. It’s a technique which may help many women, but which may have less to offer to others.  And, as always, more research is needed…