In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a money-, time-, and dignity- gobbling exercise with lower than a third chance of success. Nobody would bother with it, except that it can result in a whole new human being, and how could you put a price on that? (Well, apart from the $12,400 per cycle that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine estimates it costs.)
Before even thinking about IVF, however, potential parents might try a simple new program or iPhone app developed by some British researchers which may predict with new levels of accuracy their chances of success.
Parents who use the app could also be helping the cause of science. IVFpredict.com asks nine questions and then calculates the odds of IVF leading to a baby. The questions range from the low tech, like the mother’s age and how many pregnancies or rounds of IVF she’s had before and whether her eggs or someone else’s are being used, to the technical, like what type of medicine will be used and whether the egg will be fertilized using intracytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI (a single sperm injected directly into an egg.)
The folks who devised the test, Scott Nelson from the University of Glasgow in Scotland and Debbie Lawlor from the University of Bristol in England, created the model after analyzing data on 144,018 IVF cycles from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in Britain. (More on TIME.com: BPA Exposure May Reduce Chances of IVF)
Their findings were published in this week’s issue of PLoS Medicine. The chances of a baby arriving, they suggest, are decreased by the mom’s more advanced age, the length of the infertility and the use of the woman’s own eggs, but increased by a previous successful IVF-generated birth and use of ICSI.
“Pending external validation, our results show that couple- and treatment-specific factors can be used to provide infertile couples with an accurate assessment of whether they have low or high risk of a successful outcome following IVF,” say the authors. However, those results need to be tested. Hence the app, which is already online and becomes available for iPhones soon.
Another, slightly more elaborate way of predicting IVF success—by filming the embryo as soon as it is formed—was announced in October by Stanford University professor Dr. Renee Reijo Pera. (More on TIME.com: Putting to Rest Fears that IVF May Be Linked to Cancer)
The British method might be more of a first step. It gave this 40-something mother of two a 4% chance of IVF ending in a live birth. Don’t think I’ll need to be filming any embryos soon.
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