Taking part in clinical trials

proline_level_measurement_in_eurasian_national_universityPeople often email asking about clinical trials, and there are a couple of big multi-centre trials taking place at the moment which may be of interest. Taking part in a trial can be a really positive thing to do as you will be helping to improve understanding of techniques which may help make IVF more successful in future.
The first trial is called EFreeze and is investigating whether using frozen thawed embryos rather than fresh ones may lead to improved success rates in IVF. The theory behind this is that if the embryos are frozen rather than replaced straight away, the delay in embryo transfer means that any effects of the hormones used to stimulate the ovaries have worn off and the womb has time to return to its natural state.

Couples taking part in the study will be randomised to either have embryo transfer straight away as usual in IVF, or to have their embryos frozen and replaced later to see if this does improve outcomes. There is a lot of information for anyone considering taking part, including a list of participating centres, and a video to explain more on the trial web pages. You need to be under the age of 42 to take part in the trial which is being conducted across England and in Scotland.

The other trial is looking at endometrial scratch – a process which involves scratching the womb lining in the month before IVF treatment. There has been some research looking at this in women who’ve had repeated unsuccessful IVF cycles which suggest it may improve outcomes, but this new trial is looking at those who are having their first cycle. The study is based in Sheffield, but will be taking place at clinics around the country. It involves placing a small tube about the size of a drinking straw through the neck of the womb and gently scratching the womb’s lining.

Those taking part will be randomised to receive the scratch or not. If you want to find out more you can look at the information on the University of Sheffield website and there is a video to explain more about what is involved,

ICSI and the fertility of future children

DownloadedFile-17You may have heard about recent research suggesting that boys born after ICSI were likely to have lower sperm counts – and you may have been concerned about it. If you were, you may find this commentary from Bionews by Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University, who is one of the country’s leading sperm experts, reassuring.

There has always been a question about the future fertility of males born using ICSI, and it had been suggested that they might inherit their fathers’ fertility problems. The latest research has found that the sperm of ICSI-conceived men is of lower quality than average, but when fathers have particularly poor sperm quality this doesn’t seem to be passed on to their sons. You can read Professor Pacey’s interesting commentary on the subject here.

The brilliant NHS Choices also has a commentary on the research behind the headlines, and you can find that here.

A “potent” new treatment

images-21Another week, another Daily Mail story about IVF. You may have read this one about a “potent” new fertility treatment that is cheaper and less invasive than IVF and leads to a “50% increase in embryos”.  As usual with these stories about marvellous new advances, it all sounded wonderful and there was little to suggest that it might not be available at a clinic near you tomorrow.

I always read to the bottom of these stories. You usually find a sensible quote from a British expert, often Professor Adam Balen of the British Fertility Society or Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University if it’s a story about male fertility. In this case, there was no British expert, just a paragraph from the HFEA about in vitro maturation which wasn’t quite the same thing as the whole point of this “potent” treatment is that it is apparently an addition to in vitro maturation where substances are added to the egg cells to try to improve egg quality.

At the end of this article, a final paragraph explained that researchers are now starting to carry out some safety studies to ensure that adding these substances to the egg cells has no impact on the long-term health of babies – so probably not coming to a clinic near you just yet…

Congratulations to Professor Allan Pacey

Fabulous news that the brilliant Professor Allan Pacey, one of the UK’s leading experts on male fertility, has been awarded a very well-deserved MBE. Professor Pacey from Sheffield University’s Department of Oncology and Human Metabolism and Head of Andrology for Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was recognised in the annual list for his services to reproductive medicine.

He joined the University of Sheffield in 1992 as a postdoctoral scientist and made a Professor of Andrology in 2014. During his career, he has written 137 papers on ground breaking research into many aspects of male fertility including how sperm function inside the human body, the impact of sexually transmitted infections, such as Chlamydia, on sperm, and fertility issues in men diagnosed with cancer (oncofertility).

In 2014, he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in recognition of his pioneering research into male fertility over the past 20 years.

Professor Pacey is well known in the media where his thoughts often provide a sensible and realistic view on stories which are sometimes either alarming or over-hyped. He has worked on a number of film and television programmes including: Britain’s Secret Code Breaker (2011), Donor Unknown (2011), The Great Sperm Race (2009) and Make me a Baby (2004).

All you need to know about how sperm reach eggs

120px-Sperm-eggIf you’ve been trying to conceive for a while, you may think you know all you could possibly need to know about sperm and eggs and how they meet- but I’d really recommend this brilliant article by  Professor Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield titled ‘The Journey of the Sperm’.

It’s really clearly explained and easy to understand – but is also absolutely fascinating for anyone interested in conception.  Have a look – see what you think! You can find it here 

Should young men be freezing their sperm?

120px-Sperm-eggYou may have heard the idea mooted a week or so ago by a bioethicist from Dundee, Dr Kevin Smith, who suggested that all young men should be considering freezing sperm as young as 18 as leaving it until later to try to have a child meant that they were more likely to build up mutations. He said the NHS should fund this and claimed it was a practical idea as the children of older fathers were more likely to suffer from genetic diseases.

If you’ve been worrying about this – whether you’re an “older” man or the partner of one – you may be relieved to know that one of the country’s leading sperm experts, Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University, described it as “crackers” and one of the most ridiculous suggestions he’d heard in a long time.  He said any risks for older men becoming fathers were small and would usually affect those who were over the age of 45. He also made the point that not all sperm will freeze well anyway.

So, really no need to worry – but if you are interested, you can read more here

This year’s Fertility Show

The programme is now published for this year’s Fertility Show, taking place at London’s Olympia on November 1 and 2. The range of seminars this year looks better than ever, with talks from many of the leading experts in the field; there’s Dr Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield, chair of the British Fertility Society, on male problems, there’s Lord Robert Winston on unexplained infertility, Professor Lesley Regan on recurrent miscarriage, Zita West, Marilyn Glenville, Yacoub Khalaf and Tarek-El Toukhy from Guy’s, Sam Abdalla from the Lister, Dr Thomas Mathews from Bourn Hall, leading embryologist Rachel Cutting, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation TrustGeetha Nargund from Create  and Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Geetha Nargund from Create  – oh, and me too!

The Fertility Show is run in association with Infertility Network UK. Seminars cost just one pound each once you’ve paid for entrance, and are an excellent opportunity to get a really good overview as well as a detailed understanding of specific fertility problems and treatments.  Tickets are now on sale here header_510_graphic

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