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

 

Give up the cannabis if you want a baby

120px-Cannabis_sativa00New research from the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester has found that there is a clear link between sperm quality and cannabis use in younger men – the results were marked in those under the age of thirty, possibly because younger men tend to use cannabis more frequently and at higher doses.

It’s important to be aware that cannabis doesn’t instantly disappear from your system the moment you stop using it, and that sperm production takes around three months – so if you want to improve your chances of having a baby and you are a male dope smoker, it may take a while to see an improvement if you give up.

Interestingly, this new study – which analysed results from more than 2,000 men in 14 fertility clinics – didn’t find any associations between smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol or wearing tight underpants and sperm morphology (the size and shape of the sperm) – but it is possible that these could affect sperm in other ways.  There was evidence that exposure to paint strippers had an impact on sperm quality.

The other interesting finding was that samples produced during the summer months (June, July and August) were more likely to have problems than those given during the rest of the year.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield, who was one of the authors of the report said: “Our knowledge of factors that influence sperm size and shape is very limited, yet faced with a diagnosis of poor sperm morphology, many men are concerned to try and identify any factors in their lifestyle that could be causing this.

“It is therefore reassuring to find that there are very few identifiable risks, although our data suggests that cannabis users might be advised to stop using the drug if they are planning to try and start a family.”

You can read more about the research on the University of Sheffield website here 

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…