Researchers at RMIT University have found a way to pinpoint the ‘golden window’ when a womb is ready for pregnancy, giving the potential to combat the currently low IVF rates, which sit at around just under 50% on average.
In their latest study, researchers at RMIT University have identified a Teflon-like molecule, known as podocalyxin (PCX), that makes the surface of the womb slippery and consequently, prevents embryos from implanting. This significantly lowers the chances of a successful pregnancy developing. However, upon further investigation the research team discovered that at a certain time of the month, the levels of this molecule on the wombs surface decrease. As a consequence, the womb become stickier and therefore opens up a ‘golden window’ for pregnancy success, as the embryo is much more likely to implant.
“We’ve been looking for something that helps embryos stick when the vital part of the puzzle turned out to be a slippery molecule that has the opposite effect – it prevents them from sticking,” - Lead researcher Professor Guiying Nie.
The clinical study, lead by Nie and Professor Luk Rombauts, examined levels of the anti-implantation molecule in 81 women undergoing IVF treatment.
A biopsy of the uterus was taken at the mid-luteal phase (about seven days after ovulation) of the women’s menstrual cycle, one full cycle before a frozen embryo was transferred.
The findings showed that women with low levels of the PCX molecule had a 53% pregnancy success rate, a stark difference from just 18% in the women where the molecule levels were higher.
Professor Luk Rombauts suggested an effective method of treatment would be screening tests. The screening tests would measure levels of the PCX molecule at the ‘mid-luteal’ phase (the time between ovulation and before the start of menstruation) and help to identify the ‘golden window’ for success. It could also flag a potential reason for infertility, therefore making the molecule a potential target for treatment.
“These findings offer a promising path for us to both improve IVF success rates and potentially treat an underlying cause of infertility,” he said.
A patent application has been filed for the technology, with collaborators from Monash IVF now looking to further evaluate the potential clinical applications.