Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) at its core, is the term for the different techniques that are used to treat infertility that involves problems with both the man’s sperm and the woman’s eggs. Here, leading consultant gynaecologist and fertility care expert, Dr Talha Shawaf talks through the different assisted reproduction technologies that are available.
In-vitro fertilisation (IVF)
IVF is the original and most commonly used as a way of assisting in pregnancy for women whose fallopian tubes have become blocked or distorted, but IVF has evolved to be employed for numerous other circumstances where pregnancy is hindered.
The woman’s eggs and the man’s sperm is collected and allowed to fertilise in the laboratory. This is done by first giving the woman hormone stimulation drugs to develop a number of eggs, before collecting the eggs, and combining with the sperm. Once fertilisation occurs and the embryo begins to develop, the embryo is then transplanted into the woman’s uterus in a process called embryo transfer. Sometimes multiple embryos develop. One embryo is used and the others, if suitable, may be frozen for use in the future if the transfer is unsuccessful or for expanding the family with further success.
Artificial insemination, otherwise referred to as intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a technique used for women with healthy fallopian tubes, but who cannot conceive naturally for unknown reasons, or because of problems with achieving erection in the man. Artificial insemination can also be used when the man’s sperm has previously been frozen for later use, such as prior to cancer treatment.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
This procedure is mostly used, when the sperm have low density or poor quality. ICSI involves injecting a single sperm cell directly into the egg to help achieve fertilisation. This technique has transformed male fertility treatment. It follows same processes as IVF.
Egg / sperm donation
If a woman is not producing eggs, or producing eggs of low quality, or her male partner is not producing sperm, then donor egg or sperm cells may be used.
Donated sperm is transferred, as with the IUI technique. With donor eggs, the process is similar to IVF where the eggs are developed into embryos using the partner’s sperm and transferred into the woman’s uterus.
This technique may also be used by single women or same-sex couples who wish to conceive.
Similar to with egg and sperm donation, embryos that have previously been frozen as part of the IVF process may be donated and used in cases where the woman cannot produce eggs.
If you wish to explore ways of conceiving using assisted reproduction techniques, make an appointment with a specialist here.
ART in the UK is governed by the ART Act and regulated by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).