Bourn Hall Clinic, one of the world’s leading IVF centres is opening its doors in Dubai next year. Time Out Kids spoke to the clinic’s medical director Dr Peter Brinsden about the IVF process and the ‘fragility of fertility’.
For many couples who are finding it difficult to conceive, in vitro fertilization, or IVF, is a ray of hope for having a much longed-for baby. This life-changing treatment was first successfully attempted in 1978 by professor Robert Edwards, known as the ‘father of IVF’ who went on to co-found the world’s first IVF clinic at Bourn Hall in Cambridge UK, as well as receiving the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work in the field of fertility and conception.
With Bourn Hall set to open a state-of-the-art IVF centre in Jumeirah in early 2012, Dubai residents will have unprecedented access to the pioneering treatment and high standards of care for which the clinic is renowned, as well as taking advantage of the changes in UAE law which were amended earlier in the year to lift the ban on freezing embryos.
‘I’m delighted to hear that embryos can now be frozen,’ says Dr Peter Brinsden, president of the British Fertility Society, and consultant medical director at Bourn Hall Clinic, who is one of the world’s leading experts in his field. ‘I believe this is a major step forward for infertile couples in the UAE. Previously, perfectly normal embryos had to be disposed of after every IVF cycle, but now every embryo that is created in the lab can be used to help that couple if they want to try again. In the long term, it will save them both a lot of heartache, and a lot of money.’
The brand new clinic will have the capacity for treating up to 50 couples per day, and they will be able to watch many of the lab procedures as they take place through special viewing areas in the centre. The patients who visit the private clinic will generally be the ones who have exhausted the other options and treatments for getting pregnant, and view IVF as a ‘last resort’, explains Dr Brinsden. Choosing when to have IVF is a very individual process, but as a general rule of thumb, if a woman is not pregnant within a year of trying, she should seek help, he adds. Women who are having difficulty in getting pregnant should first approach their family doctor or gynaecologist for a check up, who will then refer them on to a specialist.
‘We have to be very realistic with our patients, to tell them the facts and provide them with the very best treatment we can,’ says Dr Brinsden. ‘Those considering IVF need to realize that there is no 100 per cent guarantee that it is going to be successful, and it is a large amount of money to pay for the procedure. While most clinics are able to get 30, 40 or even 50 per cent birth rates after treatment, we do pride ourselves on being completely honest with our patients – for example, a 40-year-old woman who approaches us for her third try at IVF is not going to have as much of a chance of getting pregnant as a 30-year-old who is attempting her first IVF cycle.’
Dr Brinsden is keen to stress what he calls the ‘fragility of fertility’ – after the age of 35, women’s natural fertility levels fall rapidly and their chances of conceiving become limited. Because of Shariah law, using eggs from another woman, even someone who is closely related, is not legal, and sperm donation and donation of embryos are also not allowed by law.
For those couples who do decide that IVF is the best option for them, the procedure begins after a series of basic tests, including hepatitis and HIV, to ensure that both the couple and the baby are protected. First, the ovaries are stimulated to produce more eggs than usual (usually between six and 10), which are then collected during a small operation when they have ripened. The eggs are then fertilized in the lab using a carefully prepared sample provided by the husband. If he has a low sperm count, a procedure called ‘interplasmic sperm injection’ can be used to inject a single sperm cell into each of the eggs. If the embryos begin to grow, one or two are then placed inside the womb: ‘We then have a very anxious two-week wait to see if the embryo has implanted, and we do a blood test,’ explains Dr Brinsden. ‘Hopefully it will be positive!’ At this stage, couples generally have a one in three, or even 50 per cent of becoming pregnant, however there is a relatively high miscarriage rate in IVF – for younger women this will be around 15 to 20 per cent, and women over the age of 38 have a 40 to 50 per cent chance of losing that pregnancy, even after IVF.
‘The whole process is a very emotional business,’ says Dr Brinsden. ‘It’s no wonder the term “emotional rollercoaster” is so often used to describe what it’s like to go through IVF.’ Because of this, Bourn Hall offers counselling and support at every stage of the treatment, to help each patient know what to expect and what is happening, as well as preparing for the outcome, whether it’s good or disappointing. ‘It’s a very important role,’ he adds. ‘Not everyone wants to take counselling or thinks they’ll need it, but we’re there to support people through the uncertainty, and when they’re really stressed they’ll know that we’re there to help.’
So for those considering IVF, what advice can Dr Brinsden give? ‘My motto for many years has been “Be optimistic but be realistic” – that sums it up well, I think. People have to realize that they are taking a chance, but for many this is the only opportunity to have a child that they desperately want so much.’
Bourn Hall Clinic is set to open in Jumeirah in early 2012. To find out more, visit www.bournhall-clinic.ae (04 386 2000).