4000 fertility experts gathered in Bologna, Italy last week for the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. As well as the mouse 'nursery' for human eggs, several other presentations at the meeting were covered in the UK media: Professor Karl Nygren, of the Sofia Hospital, Stockholm, presented in vitro fertilisation (IVF) statistics from 18 European countries. They showed that nearly one child in 80 in the UK, and 1.4% of all births in Europe are the result of either standard IVF or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) treatment. The success rate is consistent across most of the continent, with an average of 22 per cent of cycles resulting in a live birth.
But access to fertility treatment varies widely across Europe. Dr Francoise Shenfield, of University College, London, criticised the UK government for failing to end the 'postcode lottery' for couples seeking fertility treatment funded by the health service. 'There is an injustice in the United Kingdom because access to IVF is totally inequitable' she said. Dr Rene Eijkemans, of the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, told delegates that couples who have already had one natural pregnancy should wait longer before seeking fertility treatment. His research, based on records of 2,300 Canadian women born between 1850 and 1900, suggests that nearly all mothers under 35 will conceive again naturally, if they keep trying. He said they should seek treatment after six years, rather than three or four years.
Dr Katalin Kanyo, of the St John Hospital, Budapest, told the meeting that firing laser beams at embryos before implanting them is a safe way of improving success rate. His team used the technique in fertility treatments that led to 134 births between December 1998 and December 1999.