85% of fertility experts want more clinical trials to test the efficacy of new IVF techniques and more than half agree that new procedures are being offered to patients far too quickly and before trials have adequately assessed their efficacy.

The findings come as part of a survey of IVF experts’ attitudes to some of the big topical controversies in their field. The survey has been conducted to mark the 30th anniversary of the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown, which falls on 25 July 2008.

Speaking about the results Dr Mark Hamilton, Chair of the British Fertility Society (BFS), said:
 “It is gratifying that such a high percentage of fertility experts want more clinical trials of new techniques. In recent years questions have been raised about a number of untested and hugely expensive techniques widely offered in IVF clinics. These include Reproductive Immune Therapy and Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), about which the BFS has previously issued statements.

“To tackle this issue, the BFS has been involved in discussions to set up a new UK National Clinical Studies Group to improve the whole process of clinical trials in reproductive medicine. Obviously people who are desperate to have a child will want to pursue every avenue possible but this survey shows that experts themselves are keen not to exploit this vulnerability and want to ensure that we have the same standards of evidence based clinical practice as we have with other routine medical treatments. Our new initiative will help improve the quality and robustness of the evidence base underpinning our practise – which in some areas is really pretty weak.”

More than half of respondents to the survey agree that the regulatory burden of IVF is too high though 30% strongly disagreed. And despite the fact that the majority of IVF experts operate in the private sector, more than 70% agree that IVF should be funded by the NHS.

The survey shows that the Government’s decision to remove the right to anonymity from sperm donors remains very unpopular amongst IVF experts with almost 60% either agreeing or strongly agreeing that donors should remain anonymous and not have their identities revealed.  Less than one in five of those surveyed appear to agree with the move which many experts argue has radically reduced the availability of donor sperm and eggs.

Despite a number of high profile experts arguing that infertility will become a thing of the past as IVF success rates steadily improve, this survey shows that almost two thirds of experts think that infertility rates will rise throughout Europe in the next 30 years.

Dr Allan Pacey, Secretary of the BFS, said:
“This survey shines a light on some of the big issues in IVF just 30 years after Steptoe and Edwards delivered surely one of the biggest revolutions in medicine. For me, the fact that so many experts now believe that IVF should be made freely available to patients through the NHS should be a wakeup call to Government and those who decide how NHS money is spent. These bodies have scandalously failed to move anywhere near the recommended NICE guidelines of three rounds of IVF per patient.  I also think that the fact that the experts most closely involved in this believe that infertility rates will rise throughout Europe over the next 30 years needs to be followed up with some serious research into the causes of infertility, as well as its economic effects.  This is not just an issue that affects couples, but society as a whole; if birth rates drop yet further, no country will be able to pay for the pensions of the older generation.”

Notes 
  • A full summary of the survey results are available to download (pdf) (27kb)
  • For more information, please contact the British Fertility Society Press Office
  • The survey was carried out by the British Fertility Society in association with the Science Media Centre (SMC) and the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE).  The survey was conducted by means of a questionnaire sent out to the BFS membership and SMC’s database of experts as well as delegates at the recent European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology 2008 conference in Barcelona.  The survey is not intended to be a scientific survey – more an attempt to get an insight into views of IVF experts on some of the big controversial questions around routine IVF to mark the 30th anniversary of the first IVF baby, Louise Brown. 186 experts completed the survey.
British Fertility Society

The British Fertility Society is a national multidisciplinary organisation representing professionals practising in the field of reproductive medicine.

European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology

The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) was officially founded in 1985.    Its main aim is to promote interest in, and understanding of, reproductive biology and medicine.  It does this through facilitating research and subsequent dissemination of research findings in human reproduction and embryology to the general public, scientists, clinicians and patient associations; it also works to inform politicians and policy makers throughout Europe. For more information, visit the websitehttp://www.eshre.com.

Science Media Centre

The Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent venture working to promote voices, stories and views from the scientific community to the news media when science is in the headlines.  Over 50 sponsors including scientific institutions, media groups, corporate organisations and individuals fund the Centre, with donations capped at 5% of the running costs to preserve its independence.  The team at the Centre is guided by a respected Scientific Panel and Board of Advisors.

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