BBC1, Monday 21 March 2011
Presented by Liz Bonnin
'Bang Goes the Theory' is a TV show that aims to bring science to the masses by 'putting science and technology to the test'. It tries to achieve this with the aid of four fairly young enthusiastic presenters and a fast-paced style. But did the show achieve its aim with IVF?
Episode two of the show's fourth series covered three items, including an informative piece on IVF. The IVF item began with a brief background on the procedure and used two couples to illustrate two specific techniques. One of the presenters summarised aspects of the process, including how hormones are used to increase a woman's number of egg follicles and subsequent egg production. They also discussed how sperm quality affects the technique used. A concentrated solution of good-quality sperm can be incubated together with an egg to allow sperm competition and therefore 'natural' fertilisation to occur. Sperm with poor mobility (and therefore unsuitable for this method) may be injected directly into the egg's cytoplasm by the process of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
The first couple produced a good number of eggs and had good sperm quality - some may wonder why they were having problems conceiving. This was never really discussed. They used the first method, but failed to conceive. However, the second couple used ICSI and did conceive. There was no explanation provided to identify why ICSI (a seemingly more fail-proof method) was not used in the first instance, nor were any of the possible risks mentioned. During ICSI, any sperm may be selected to fertilise the egg instead of the strongest one (as in a natural setting where the sperm compete and the strongest fertilises the egg). For this reason, ICSI may lead to a small, but increased, risk of congenital abnormalities when compared to the more traditional method (as described above). This has been highlighted by the Practice Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, but was not mentioned in the programme.
The presenter then discussed how IVF success (pregnancy) rates have not increased in the 30 years since it was first used. It was claimed one of the reasons for this was the time taken to implant an embryo into a woman's womb. This can be five to seven days after fertilisation to allow embryologists to determine which embryos are likely to successfully implant. The presenters discussed some recent research from Stanford University in the USA. These researchers had discovered that monitoring the pace of cell division in the first days of embryonic development allowed them to predict which embryos would become most suitable for implantation. Such embryos could then be implanted much more quickly. The topic was certainly worth highlighting but some comments on the lack of research in this area would have provided a more balanced report.
This episode certainly did achieve its aim to bring science to the masses. However, although it was vaguely entertaining, it was not particularly informative or balanced.