Ask Our Doctors

Name: Alyson B

December 5, 2022
Hello, My first IVF cycle with embryo adoption has been cancelled due to a thin endometrium as I have not responded well to the oestrogen medication (it was increased to 8mg of Progynova a day in combination with an estraderm patch in the last week). The clinic have said to do a new preparation but… Read More »

Answer:

It is possible that the treatment of your endometrial cancer might have negatively  impacted endometrial thickening in response to estrogen.

This having been said, I would need much  more information in order to provide an authoritative response!

________________________________________________________________________

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

I am attaching online links to two E-books which I recently  co-authored with  my partner at SFS-NY  (Drew Tortoriello MD)……. for your reading pleasure:

1.From In Vitro Fertilization to Family: A Journey with Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) “

https://sherfertilitysolutions.com/sher-fertility-solutions-ebook.pdf

  1. “Recurrent Pregnancy Loss and Unexplained IVF Failure: The Immunologic Link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iYKz-EkAjMqwMa1ZcufIloRdxnAfDH8L/view

………………………………………………………………..

To set up an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 or by email: concierge@sherIVF.com

Name: Ananthy A

December 5, 2022
I had a term baby at 38years. I was treated with immune protocol – Intralipid, clexane, dexamethasone,aspirin and so on for repeated implantation failure( after 6 failed implantation) Hla DQ and NK cells normal At 40 I did ivf again with the same immune protocol with genetically tested embryo but had silent miscarriage at around… Read More »

Answer:

I am afraid , I would need a great deal more information to be able to comment authoritatively!.

We should talk!

Geoff Sher

_________________________________________________________-

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

I am attaching online links to two E-books which I recently  co-authored with  my partner at SFS-NY  (Drew Tortoriello MD)……. for your reading pleasure:

1.From In Vitro Fertilization to Family: A Journey with Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) “

https://sherfertilitysolutions.com/sher-fertility-solutions-ebook.pdf

  1. “Recurrent Pregnancy Loss and Unexplained IVF Failure: The Immunologic Link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iYKz-EkAjMqwMa1ZcufIloRdxnAfDH8L/view

………………………………………………………………..

To set up an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 or by email: concierge@sherIVF.com

 

Name: Eliana B

December 3, 2022
Hi Dr. Sher, I have a child conceived naturally at 39 and then two early miscarriages also natural conception (first loss at 6 weeks and second loss at 7 weeks prior to heartbeat being detected) at age 42 and age 43 which were attributed to likely chromosomal abnormalities. Since that time I’ve had one failed… Read More »

Answer:

This is highly likely to at least in part, be due to a secondary implantation dysfunction (see below). While not definitive, I suspect an immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). The fact that you have had a child already means that it if an IID exists, it is possibly alloimmune in origin (see below). You mentioned treatment you received empirically for an IID , however, what you described would in my opinion not have been optimal (see below).

Implantation dysfunction is unfortunately often overlooked as an important cause of IVF failure. In the pursuit of optimizing outcome with IVF, the clinician has a profound responsibility to meticulously assess and address this important issue if IVF success is to be optimized. This is especially relevant in cases of “unexplained IVF failure, Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) and in women suspected of having underlying anatomical and immunologic factors. Doing so  will not only maximize the chance of a viable pregnancy but enhancing placentation, will at the same time  promote the noble objective of optimizing the quality of life after birth.”

IVF success rates have been improving over the last decade. The average live birth rate per embryo transfer in the U.S.A for women under 40y using their own eggs , is currently better than 1:3 women. However, there is still a wide variation from program to program for IVF live birth rates, ranging from 20% to near 50%. Based upon these statistics, the majority of women undergoing IVF in the United States require two or more attempts to have a baby. IVF practitioners in the United States commonly attribute the wide dichotomy in IVF success rates to variability in expertise of the various embryology laboratories. This is far from accurate. In fact, other factors such as wide variations in patient selection and the failure to develop individualized protocols for ovarian stimulation or to address those infective, anatomical and immunologic factors that influence embryo implantation are at least equally important.

About 80% of IVF failures are due to “embryo incompetency” that is largely due to an irregular quota of chromosomes (aneuploidy) which is usually related to advancing age of the woman and is further influenced by other factors such as the protocol selected for ovarian stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR)m and severe male factor infertility. However in about 20% of dysfunctional cases embryo implantation is the cause of failure.

This blog article will focus on implantation dysfunction and IVF failure due to:

  • Anatomical abnormalities in the uterine cavity  (polyps/scarring/internal fibroids)

Several studies performed both in the United States and abroad have confirmed that a dye X-Ray or hysterosalpingogram (HSG) will fail to identify small endouterine surface lesions in >20% of cases. This is significant because even small uterine lesions have the potential to adversely affect implantation. Hysteroscopy is the traditional method for evaluating the integrity of the uterine cavity in preparation for IVF. It also permits resection of most uterine surface lesions, such as submucous uterine fibroids (myomas), intrauterine adhesions and endometrial or placental polyps. All of these can interfere with implantation by producing a local “inflammatory- type” response similar in nature to that which is caused by an intrauterine contraceptive device. Hysterosonography (syn; HSN/ saline ultrasound examination) and hysteroscopy have all but supplanted HSG to assess the uterine cavity in preparation for IVF. HSN which is less invasive and far less expensive than is than hysteroscopy involves  a small amount of a sterile saline solution is injected into the uterine cavity, whereupon a vaginal ultrasound examination is performed to assess the contour of the uterine cavity.

  • Endometrial Thickness: As far back as in 1989 I first reported  on the finding  that ultrasound assessment of the late proliferative phase endometrium following ovarian stimulation in preparation for IVF, permits better identification of those candidates who are least likely to conceive. We noted that the ideal thickness of the endometrium at the time of ovulation or egg retrieval is >9 mm and that a thickness of less than 8 mm bodes poorly for a successful outcome following IVF.

Then in 1993, I demonstrated that sildenafil (Viagra) introduced into the vagina prior to hCG administration can improve endometrial growth in many women with poor endometrial development. Viagra’s mechanism of action is improvement in uterine blood flow with improved estrogen delivery…thereby enhancing endometrial development.

  • Immunologic factors: These also play a role in IVF failure. Some women develop antibodies to components of their own cells. This “autoimmune” process involves the production of antiphospholipid, antithyroid, and/or anti-ovarian antibodies – all of which may be associated with activation of Natural Killer (NK) cells in the uterine lining. Activated NK cells (NKa) release certain cytokines (TH-I) that if present in excess, often damage the trophoblast (the embryo’s root system) resulting in immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). This can manifest as “infertility” or as early miscarriages). In other cases (though less common), the problem is due to “alloimmune” dysfunction. Here the genetic contribution by the male partner renders the embryo “too similar” to the mother. This in turn activates NK cells leading to implantation dysfunction. These IID’s are treated using combinations of medications such as heparin, Clexane, Lovenox, corticosteroids and intralipid (IL).

I strongly recommend that you visit www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • A Fresh Look at the Indications for IVF
  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • IVF and the use of Supplementary Human Growth Hormone (HGH) : Is it Worth Trying and who needs it?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • IVF: Approach to Selecting the Best Embryos for Transfer to the Uterus.
  • Fresh versus Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET) Enhance IVF Outcome
  • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
  • Genetically Testing Embryos for IVF
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA): Is There an actual “There, There”?
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • Diagnosing and Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • A Thin Uterine Lining: Vaginal Viagra is Often the Answer (update)
  • Cervical Ureaplasma Urealyticum Infection: How can it Affect IUI/IVF Outcome?
  • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF
  • The Basic Infertility Work-Up
  • Defining and Addressing an Abnormal Luteal Phase
  • Male Factor Infertility
  • Routine Fertilization by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An Argument in Favor
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Antisperm Antibodies, Infertility and the Role of IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
  • Endometriosis and Infertily
  • Endometriosis and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) and IVF
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: Why IVF Rather than IUI or Surgery Should be the Treatment of Choice.
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: The Influence of Age and Severity on Treatment Options
  • Early -Endometriosis-related Infertility: Ovulation Induction (with or without Intrauterine Insemination) and Reproductive Surgery  Versus IVF
  • Deciding Between Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s & Con’s!IUI-Reflecting upon its Use and Misuse: Time for a Serious “Reality Check
  • Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its ue
  • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!

_______________________________________________________________________

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

I am attaching online links to two E-books which I recently  co-authored with  my partner at SFS-NY  (Drew Tortoriello MD)……. for your reading pleasure:

1.From In Vitro Fertilization to Family: A Journey with Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) “

https://sherfertilitysolutions.com/sher-fertility-solutions-ebook.pdf

  1. “Recurrent Pregnancy Loss and Unexplained IVF Failure: The Immunologic Link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iYKz-EkAjMqwMa1ZcufIloRdxnAfDH8L/view

………………………………………………………………..

To set up an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 or by email: concierge@sherIVF.com

Name: Janeé B

December 2, 2022
Hello Dr. Sher, Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I have 1 daughter (age 16) then loss my son at 23 weeks gestation 2 years later, had 3 ectopic pregnancies and 4 chemical pregnancies. I’ve had a laser done on my cervix after having my daughter , confirmed Endometriosis via laparoscopy,… Read More »

Answer:

Your underlying PCOS does not explain the losses (chemical or ectopic). You likely have an underlying secondary implantation dysfunction which could be an autoimmune and/or alloimmune, immunologic  implantation dysfunction (IID). The presentation suggests that it possibly is more likely the latter. Endometriosis is associated with an IID in 30% of cases. The fact that you have had immune tests that came up negative, unfortunately does not rule this out because it very much depends on which tests were done and where they were performed.

Please also read the additional Information section at the end of this response:

1. Implantation Dysfunction

Implantation dysfunction is unfortunately often overlooked as an important cause of IVF failure. In the pursuit of optimizing outcome with IVF, the clinician has a profound responsibility to meticulously assess and address this important issue if IVF success is to be optimized. This is especially relevant in cases of “unexplained IVF failure, Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) and in women suspected of having underlying anatomical and immunologic factors. Doing so  will not only maximize the chance of a viable pregnancy but enhancing placentation, will at the same time  promote the noble objective of optimizing the quality of life after birth.”

IVF success rates have been improving over the last decade. The average live birth rate per embryo transfer in the U.S.A for women under 40y using their own eggs , is currently better than 1:3 women. However, there is still a wide variation from program to program for IVF live birth rates, ranging from 20% to near 50%. Based upon these statistics, the majority of women undergoing IVF in the United States require two or more attempts to have a baby. IVF practitioners in the United States commonly attribute the wide dichotomy in IVF success rates to variability in expertise of the various embryology laboratories. This is far from accurate. In fact, other factors such as wide variations in patient selection and the failure to develop individualized protocols for ovarian stimulation or to address those infective, anatomical and immunologic factors that influence embryo implantation are at least equally important.

About 80% of IVF failures are due to “embryo incompetency” that is largely due to an irregular quota of chromosomes (aneuploidy) which is usually related to advancing age of the woman and is further influenced by other factors such as the protocol selected for ovarian stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR)m and severe male factor infertility. However in about 20% of dysfunctional cases embryo implantation is the cause of failure.

This blog article will focus on implantation dysfunction and IVF failure due to:

  • Anatomical abnormalities in the uterine cavity  (polyps/scarring/internal fibroids)

Several studies performed both in the United States and abroad have confirmed that a dye X-Ray or hysterosalpingogram (HSG) will fail to identify small endouterine surface lesions in >20% of cases. This is significant because even small uterine lesions have the potential to adversely affect implantation. Hysteroscopy is the traditional method for evaluating the integrity of the uterine cavity in preparation for IVF. It also permits resection of most uterine surface lesions, such as submucous uterine fibroids (myomas), intrauterine adhesions and endometrial or placental polyps. All of these can interfere with implantation by producing a local “inflammatory- type” response similar in nature to that which is caused by an intrauterine contraceptive device. Hysterosonography (syn; HSN/ saline ultrasound examination) and hysteroscopy have all but supplanted HSG to assess the uterine cavity in preparation for IVF. HSN which is less invasive and far less expensive than is than hysteroscopy involves  a small amount of a sterile saline solution is injected into the uterine cavity, whereupon a vaginal ultrasound examination is performed to assess the contour of the uterine cavity.

  • Endometrial Thickness: As far back as in 1989 I first reported  on the finding  that ultrasound assessment of the late proliferative phase endometrium following ovarian stimulation in preparation for IVF, permits better identification of those candidates who are least likely to conceive. We noted that the ideal thickness of the endometrium at the time of ovulation or egg retrieval is >9 mm and that a thickness of less than 8 mm bodes poorly for a successful outcome following IVF.

Then in 1993, I demonstrated that sildenafil (Viagra) introduced into the vagina prior to hCG administration can improve endometrial growth in many women with poor endometrial development. Viagra’s mechanism of action is improvement in uterine blood flow with improved estrogen delivery…thereby enhancing endometrial development.

  • Immunologic factors: These also play a role in IVF failure. Some women develop antibodies to components of their own cells. This “autoimmune” process involves the production of antiphospholipid, antithyroid, and/or anti-ovarian antibodies – all of which may be associated with activation of Natural Killer (NK) cells in the uterine lining. Activated NK cells (NKa) release certain cytokines (TH-I) that if present in excess, often damage the trophoblast (the embryo’s root system) resulting in immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). This can manifest as “infertility” or as early miscarriages). In other cases (though less common), the problem is due to “alloimmune” dysfunction. Here the genetic contribution by the male partner renders the embryo “too similar” to the mother. This in turn activates NK cells leading to implantation dysfunction. These IID’s are treated using combinations of medications such as heparin, Clexane, Lovenox, corticosteroids and intralipid (IL).

2. Endometriosis and IVF

When women with infertility due to endometriosis seek treatment, they are all too often advised to first try ovarian stimulation (ovulation Induction) with intrauterine insemination (IUI) ………as if to say that this would be just as likely to result in a baby as would in vitro fertilization (IVF). Nothing could be further from reality It is time to set the record straight. And hence this communication!

Bear in mind that the cost of treatment comprises both financial and emotional components and that it is the cost of having a baby rather than cost of a procedure. Then consider the fact that regardless of her age or the severity of the condition, women with infertility due to endometriosis are several fold more likely to have a baby per treatment cycle of IVF than with IUI. It follows that there is a distinct advantage in doing IVF first, rather than as a last resort.

So then, why is it that ovulation induction with or without IUI is routinely offered proposed preferentially to women with mild to moderately severe endometriosis? Could it in part be due to the fact that most practicing doctors do not provide IVF services but are indeed remunerated for ovarian stimulation and IUI services and are thus economically incentivized to offer IUI as a first line approach? Or is because of the often erroneous belief that the use of fertility drugs will in all cases induce the release (ovulation) of multiple eggs at a time and thereby increase the chance of a pregnancy. The truth however is that while normally ovulating women (the majority of women who have mild to moderately severe endometriosis) respond to ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs by forming multiple follicles, they rarely ovulate > 1 (or at most 2) egg at a time. This is because such women usually only develop a single dominant follicle which upon ovulating leaves the others intact. This is the reason why normally ovulating women who undergo ovulation induction usually will not experience improved pregnancy potential, nor will they have a marked increase in multiple pregnancies. Conversely, non-ovulating women (as well as those with dysfunctional ovulation) who undergo ovulation induction, almost always develop multiple large follicles that tend to ovulate in unison. This increases the potential to conceive along with an increased risk multiple pregnancies.

 

So let me take a stab at explaining why IVF is more successful than IUI or surgical correction in the treatment of endometriosis-related infertility:

  1. The toxic pelvic factor: Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. While this process begins early in the reproductive life of a woman, with notable exceptions, it only becomes manifest in the 2ndhalf of her reproductive life. After some time, these deposits bleed and when the blood absorbs it leaves a visible pigment that can be identified upon surgical exposure of the pelvis. Such endometriotic deposits invariably produce and release toxins” into the pelvic secretions that coat the surface of the membrane (the peritoneum) that envelops all abdominal and pelvic organs, including the uterus, tubes and ovaries. These toxins are referred to as “the peritoneal factor”. Following ovulation, the egg(s) must pass from the ovary (ies), through these toxic secretions to reach the sperm lying in wait in the outer part the fallopian tube (s) tube(s) where, the sperm lie in waiting. In the process of going from the ovary(ies) to the Fallopian tube(s) these eggs become exposed to the “peritoneal toxins” which alter s the envelopment of the egg (i.e. zona pellucida) making it much less receptive to being fertilized by sperm. As a consequence, if they are chromosomally normal such eggs are rendered much less likely to be successfully fertilized. Since almost all women with endometriosis have this problem, it is not difficult to understand why they are far less likely to conceive following ovulation (whether natural or induced through ovulation induction). This “toxic peritoneal factor impacts on eggs that are ovulated whether spontaneously (as in natural cycles) or following the use of fertility drugs and serves to explain why the chance of pregnancy is so significantly reduced in normally ovulating women with endometriosis.
  2. The Immunologic Factor: About one third of women who have endometriosis will also have an immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to activation of uterine natural killer cells (NKa).  This will require selective immunotherapy with Intralipid infusions, and/or heparinoids (e.g. Clexane/Lovenox) that is much more effectively implemented in combination with IVF.
  3. Surgical treatment of mild to moderate endometriosis does not usually improve pregnancy potential:. The reason is that endometriosis can be considered to be a “work in progress”. New lesions are constantly developing. So it is that for every endometriotic seen there are usually many non-pigmented deposits that are in the process of evolving but are not yet visible to the naked eye and such evolving (non-visible) lesions can also release the same “toxins that compromise fertilization. Accordingly, even after surgical removal of all visible lesions the invisible ones continue to release “toxins” and retain the ability to compromise natural fertilization. It also explains why surgery to remove endometriotic deposits in women with mild to moderate endometriosis usually will fail to significantly improve pregnancy generating potential. In contrast, IVF, by removing eggs from the ovaries prior to ovulation, fertilizing these outside of the body and then transferring the resulting embryo(s) to the uterus, bypasses the toxic pelvic environment and is therefore is the treatment of choice in cases of endometriosis-related infertility.
  4. Ovarian Endometriomas: Women, who have advanced endometriosis, often have endometriotic ovarian cysts, known as endometriomas. These cysts contain decomposed menstrual blood that looks like melted chocolate…hence the name “chocolate cysts”. These space occupying lesions can activate ovarian connective tissue (stroma or theca) resulting in an overproduction of male hormones (especially testosterone). An excess of ovarian testosterone can severely compromise follicle and egg development in the affected ovary. Thus there are two reasons for treating endometriomas. The first is to alleviate symptoms and the second is to optimize egg and embryo quality. Conventional treatment of endometriomas involves surgical drainage of the cyst contents with subsequent removal of the cyst wall (usually by laparoscopy), increasing the risk of surgical complications. We recently reported on a new, effective and safe outpatient approach to treating endometriomas in women planning to undergo IVF. We termed the treatment ovarian Sclerotherapy.  The process involves; needle aspiration of the “chocolate colored liquid content of the endometriotic cyst, followed by the injection of 5% tetracycline hydrochloride into the cyst cavity. Such treatment will, more than 75% of the time result in disappearance of the lesion within 6-8 weeks. Ovarian sclerotherapy can be performed under local anesthesia or under conscious sedation. It is a safe and effective alternative to surgery for definitive treatment of recurrent ovarian endometriomas in a select group of patients planning to undergo IVF

 

I am not suggesting that all women with infertility-related endometriosis should automatically resort to IVF. Quite to the contrary…. In spite of having reduced fertility potential, many women with mild to moderate endometriosis can and do go on to conceive on their own (without treatment). It is just that the chance of this happening is so is much lower than normal.

IN SUMMARY: For young ovulating women (< 35 years of age ) with endometriosis, who have normal reproductive anatomy and have fertile male partners, expectant treatment is often preferable to IUI or IVF. However, for older women, women who (regardless of their age) have any additional factor (e.g. pelvic adhesions, ovarian endometriomas, male infertility, IID or diminished ovarian reserve-DOR) IVF should be the primary treatment of choice.

3. Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)

When it comes to reproduction, humans are the poorest performers of all mammals. In fact we are so inefficient that up to 75% of fertilized eggs do not produce live births, and up to 30% of pregnancies end up being lost within 10 weeks of conception (in the first trimester). RPL is defined as two (2) or more failed pregnancies. Less than 5% of women will experience two (2) consecutive miscarriages, and only 1% experience three or more.

Pregnancy loss can be classified by the stage of pregnancy when the loss occurs:

  • Early pregnancy loss (first trimester)
  • Late pregnancy loss (after the first trimester)
  • Occult “hidden” and not clinically recognized, (chemical) pregnancy loss (occurs prior to ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy)
  • Early pregnancy losses usually occur sporadically (are not repetitive).

 

In more than 70% of cases the loss is due to embryo aneuploidy (where there are more or less than the normal quota of 46 chromosomes). Conversely, repeated losses (RPL), with isolated exceptions where the cause is structural (e.g., unbalanced translocations), are seldom attributable to numerical chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy). In fact, the vast majority of cases of RPL are attributable to non-chromosomal causes such as anatomical uterine abnormalities or Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID).

Since most sporadic early pregnancy losses are induced by chromosomal factors and thus are non-repetitive, having had a single miscarriage the likelihood of a second one occurring is no greater than average. However, once having had two losses the chance of a third one occurring is double (35-40%) and after having had three losses the chance of a fourth miscarriage increases to about 60%. The reason for this is that the more miscarriages a woman has, the greater is the likelihood of this being due to a non-chromosomal (repetitive) cause such as IID. It follows that if numerical chromosomal analysis (karyotyping) of embryonic/fetal products derived from a miscarriage tests karyotypically normal, then by a process of elimination, there would be a strong likelihood of a miscarriage repeating in subsequent pregnancies and one would not have to wait for the disaster to recur before taking action. This is precisely why we strongly advocate that all miscarriage specimens be karyotyped.

There is however one caveat to be taken into consideration. That is that the laboratory performing the karyotyping might unwittingly be testing the mother’s cells rather than that of the conceptus. That is why it is not possible to confidently exclude aneuploidy in cases where karyotyping of products suggests a “chromosomally normal” (euploid) female.

Late pregnancy losses (occurring after completion of the 1st trimester/12th week) occur far less frequently (1%) than early pregnancy losses. They are most commonly due to anatomical abnormalities of the uterus and/or cervix. Weakness of the neck of the cervix rendering it able to act as an effective valve that retains the pregnancy (i.e., cervical incompetence) is in fact one of the commonest causes of late pregnancy loss. So also are developmental (congenital) abnormalities of the uterus (e.g., a uterine septum) and uterine fibroid tumors. In some cases intrauterine growth retardation, premature separation of the placenta (placental abruption), premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor can also causes of late pregnancy loss.

Much progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms involved in RPL. There are two broad categories:

  1. Problems involving the uterine environment in which a normal embryo is prohibited from properly implanting and developing. Possible causes include:
  • Inadequate thickening of the uterine lining
  • Irregularity in the contour of the uterine cavity (polyps, fibroid tumors in the uterine wall, intra-uterine scarring and adenomyosis)
  • Hormonal imbalances (progesterone deficiency or luteal phase defects). This most commonly results in occult RPL.
  • Deficient blood flow to the uterine lining (thin uterine lining).
  • Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). A major cause of RPL. Plays a role in 75% of cases where chromosomally normal preimplantation embryos fail to implan
  • Interference of blood supply to the developing conceptus can occur due to a hereditary clotting disorder known as Thrombophili

 

  1. Genetic and/or numerical chromosomal abnormalities(aneuploidy) of the embryo are far away the commonest overall causes of miscarriages. But this only applies to sporadic pregnancy losses (which comprises the majority of all miscarriages. However, recurrent, (consecutive) pregnancy losses are much more likely due to implantation dysfunction than to embryo-related issues, where implantation dysfunction (usually anatomical or immunologic) factors usually underly the problem.
  2. Genetic or Structural chromosomal abnormalities (which only occur in about 1% of cases) can also cause RPL. This is referred to as an unbalanced translocation and they result from part of one chromosome detaching and then fusing with another chromosome. Additionally, genetic defects (unrelated to chromosomal abnormalities) can also affect embryo quality and pregnancy outcome. Damaged sperm DNA can sometimes be diagnosed using the SCSA (see before) which primarily measures the sperm DNA fragmentation index (DFI).

 

IMMUNOLOGIC IMPLANTATION DYSFUNCTIO-IID (see before)

Autoimmune IID: Here an immunologic reaction is produced by the individual to his/her body’s own cellular components. The most common antibodies that form in such situations are APA and antithyroid antibodies

Alloimmune IID, i.e., where there is an immunologic reaction to antigens derived from another member of the same species (i.e. the woman’s immune system reacts to the paternal antigens in the sperm (see above) .

*It is important to recognize that alloimmune (rather than autoimmune) IID is more commonly associated with RPL.

Autoimmune IID is often genetically transmitted. Thus, it should not be surprising to learn that it is more likely to exist in women who have a family (or personal) history of primary autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus (LE), scleroderma or autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease), autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Grave’s disease), rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Reactionary (secondary) autoimmunity can occur in conjunction with any medical condition associated with widespread tissue damage. One such gynecologic condition is endometriosis. Since autoimmune IID is usually associated with activated NK and T-cells from the outset, it usually results in such very early destruction of the embryo’s root system that the patient does not even recognize that she is pregnant. Accordingly, the condition usually presents as “unexplained infertility” or “unexplained IVF failure” rather than as a miscarriage.

Alloimmune IID, on the other hand, usually starts off presenting as unexplained miscarriages (often manifesting as RPL). Over time as NK/T cell activation builds and eventually becomes permanently established the patient often goes from RPL to “infertility” due to failed implantation. RPL is more commonly the consequence of alloimmune rather than autoimmune implantation dysfunction.

However, regardless, of whether miscarriage is due to autoimmune or alloimmune implantation dysfunction the final blow to the pregnancy is the result of activated NK cells and CTL in the uterine lining that damage the developing embryo’s “root system” (trophoblast) so that it can no longer sustain the growing conceptus. This having been said, it is important to note that autoimmune IID is readily amenable to reversal through timely, appropriately administered, selective immunotherapy, and alloimmune IID is not. It is much more difficult to treat successfully, even with the use of immunotherapy. In fact, in some cases the only solution will be to revert to selective immunotherapy plus using donor sperm (provided there is no “match” between the donor’s DQ alpha/HLA profile and that of the female recipient) or alternatively to resort to gestational surrogacy.

DIAGNOSING THE CAUSE OF RPL

In the past, women who miscarried were not evaluated thoroughly until they had lost several pregnancies in a row. This was because sporadic miscarriages are most commonly the result of embryo numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) and thus not treatable. However, a consecutive series of miscarriages points to a repetitive cause that is non-chromosomal and is potentially remediable. Since RPL is most commonly due to a uterine pathology or immunologic causes that are potentially treatable, it follows that early chromosomal evaluation of products of conception could point to a potentially treatable situation. Thus, we strongly recommend that such testing be done in most cases of miscarriage. Doing so will avoid a great deal of unnecessary heartache for many patients.

Establishing the correct diagnosis is the first step toward determining effective treatment for couples with RPL. It results from a problem within the pregnancy itself or within the uterine environment where the pregnancy implants and grows. Diagnostic tests useful in identifying individuals at greater risk for a problem within the pregnancy itself include:

  • Karyotyping (chromosome analysis) both prospective parents
  • Assessment of the karyotype of products of conception derived from previous miscarriage specimens
  • Ultrasound examination of the uterine cavity after sterile water is injected or sonohysterogram, fluid ultrasound, etc.
  • Hysterosalpingogram (dye X-ray test)
  • Hysteroscopic evaluation of the uterine cavity
  • Full hormonal evaluation (estrogen, progesterone, adrenal steroid hormones, thyroid hormones, FSH/LH, )
  • Immunologic testing to include:
    • Antiphospholipid antibody (APA) panel
    • Antinuclear antibody (ANA) panel
    • Antithyroid antibody panel (i.e., antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal antibodies)
    • Reproductive immunophenotype
    • Natural killer cell activity (NKa) assay (i.e., K562 target cell test)
    • Alloimmune (DQ alpha/HLA) testing of both the male and female partners

 

TREATMENT OF RPL

Treatment for Anatomic Abnormalities of the Uterus: This involves restoration through removal of local lesions such as fibroids, scar tissue, and endometrial polyps or timely insertion of a cervical cerclage (a stitch placed around the neck of the weakened cervix) or the excision of a uterine septum when indicated.

Treatment of Thin Uterine Lining: A thin uterine lining has been shown to correlate with compromised pregnancy outcome. Often this will be associated with reduced blood flow to the endometrium.  Such decreased blood flow to the uterus can be improved through treatment with sildenafil and possibly aspirin.

Sildenafil (Viagra) Therapy (see above). Viagra has been used successfully to increase uterine blood flow. To date, we have seen significant improvement of the thickness of the uterine lining in about 70% of women treated. Successful pregnancy resulted in almost half of those women who responded to the Viagra. It should be borne in mind that most of these women had previously experienced repeated IVF failures.

Use of Aspirin: This is an anti-prostaglandin that improves blood flow to the endometrium. It is administered at a dosage of 81 mg orally, daily from the beginning of the cycle until ovulation.

Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction with Selective Immunotherapy: Modalities such as IL/IVIg, heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane), and corticosteroids can be used in select cases depending on autoimmune or alloimmune dysfunction.

The Use of IVF in the Treatment of RPL. In the following circumstances, IVF is the preferred option:

  • When in addition to a history of RPL, another standard indication for IVF (e.g., tubal factor, endometriosis, and male factor infertility) is superimposed.
  • In cases where selective immunotherapy is needed to treat an immunologic implantation dysfunction.

The reason for IVF being a preferred approach in such cases is that in order to be effective, the immunotherapy needs to be initiated well before spontaneous or induced ovulation. Given the fact that in the absence of IVF the anticipated birthrate per cycle of COS with or without IUI is at best about 15%, it follows that short of IVF, to have even a reasonable chance of a live birth, most women with immunologic causes of RPL would need to undergo immunotherapy repeatedly, over consecutive cycles. Conversely, with IVF, the chance of a successful outcome in a single cycle of treatment is several times greater and, because of the attenuated and concentrated time period required for treatment, IVF is far safer and thus represents a more practicable alternative

Since embryo aneuploidy is a common cause of miscarriage, the use of PGS/PGT-A can provide a valuable diagnostic and therapeutic advantage in cases of RPL. PGD requires IVF to provide access to embryos for testing.

There are a few cases of intractable alloimmune dysfunction due to “complete DQ alpha matching where Gestational Surrogacy or use of Donor  Sperm could represent the only viable recourse, other than abandoning treatment altogether and/or resorting to adoption. Other non-immunologic factors such as an intractably thin uterine lining or severe uterine pathology might also warrant that last resort consideration be given to gestational surrogacy.

The good news is that if a couple with RPL is open to all of the diagnostic and treatment options referred to above, a live birthrate of 70%–80% is ultimately achievable.

I strongly recommend that you visit www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Ovarian Stimulation for IVF using GnRH Antagonists: Comparing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol.(A/ACP) With the “Conventional” Antagonist Approach
  • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
  • “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
  • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
  • How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF.

The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF

____________________________________________________________________________

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

I am attaching online links to two E-books which I recently  co-authored with  my partner at SFS-NY  (Drew Tortoriello MD)……. for your reading pleasure:

1.From In Vitro Fertilization to Family: A Journey with Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) “

https://sherfertilitysolutions.com/sher-fertility-solutions-ebook.pdf

  1. “Recurrent Pregnancy Loss and Unexplained IVF Failure: The Immunologic Link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iYKz-EkAjMqwMa1ZcufIloRdxnAfDH8L/view

_______________________________________________________________________

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

I am attaching online links to two E-books which I recently  co-authored with  my partner at SFS-NY  (Drew Tortoriello MD)……. for your reading pleasure:

1.From In Vitro Fertilization to Family: A Journey with Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) “

https://sherfertilitysolutions.com/sher-fertility-solutions-ebook.pdf

  1. “Recurrent Pregnancy Loss and Unexplained IVF Failure: The Immunologic Link

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iYKz-EkAjMqwMa1ZcufIloRdxnAfDH8L/view

………………………………………………………………..

To set up an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 or by email: concierge@sherIVF.com

 

 

 

Name: Taylor A

November 30, 2022
Hi, I just wanted a second opinion on what my FET protocol looks like given my personal situation. I was diagnosed with endometriosis via laparoscopy in 2018. I did a total of 6 IUIs in 2021-2022 with my 4th one resulting in a pregnancy (blighted ovum). We did IVF recently and had great egg count… Read More »

Answer:

This is an inordinate drop off from egg to “competent” embryo. In my opinion, , in spite of your borderline AMH (1.48ng/ml) which would suggest otherwise, you are a high responder to fertility drugs. The most likely explanation for your poor egg to “competent” embryo conversion has to do with the protocoil used for ovarian stimulation (see below).

The second issue is the relationship between endometriosis and immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). This should also be examined because regardless of embryo quality, you cannot transfer to a “non-receptive endometrium.

1: Why so few “competent” Blastocysts?

One of the commonest questions asked by patients undergoing IVF relates to the likelihood of their eggs fertilizing and the likely “quality of their eggs and embryos. This is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. On the one hand many factors that profoundly influence egg quality; such as the genetic recruitment of eggs for use in an upcoming cycle, the woman’s age and her ovarian reserve, are our outside of our control. On the other hand the protocol for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) can also profoundly influence egg/embryo development and this is indeed chosen by the treating physician.

First; it should be understood that the most important determinant of fertilization potential, embryo development and blastocyst generation, is the numerical chromosomal integrity of the egg (While sperm quality does play a role, in the absence of moderate to severe sperm dysfunction this is (moderate or severe male factor infertility a relatively small one). Human eggs have the highest rate of numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) of all mammals. In fact only about half the eggs of women in their twenties or early thirties, have the required number of chromosomes (euploid), without which upon fertilization they cannot propagate a normal pregnancy. As the woman advances into and beyond her mid-thirties, the percentage of eggs euploid eggs declines progressively such that by the age of 40 years, only about one out of seven or eight are likely to be chromosomally normal and by the time she reaches her mid-forties less than one in ten of her eggs will be euploid.

Second; embryos that fail to develop into blastocysts are almost always aneuploid and not worthy of being transferred to the uterus because they will either not implant, will miscarry or could even result in a chromosomally abnormal baby (e.g. Down syndrome). However, it is incorrect to assume that all embryos reaching the blastocyst stage will be euploid (“competent”).  ). It is true that since many aneuploid embryos are lost during development and that those failing to survive to the blastocyst stage are far more likely to be competent than are earlier (cleaved) embryos.  What is also true is that the older the woman who produces the eggs, the less likely it is that a given blastocyst will be “competent”. As an example, a morphologically pristine blastocyst derived from the egg of a 30-year-old woman would have about a 50:50 chance of being euploid and a 30% chance of propagating a healthy, normal baby, while a microscopically comparable blastocyst-derived through fertilization of the eggs from a 40-year-old, would be about half as likely to be euploid and/or propagate a healthy baby.

While the effect of species on the potential of eggs to be euploid at ovulation is genetically preordained and nothing we do can alter this equation, there is, unfortunately, a lot we can (often unwittingly) do to worsen the situation by selecting a suboptimal protocol of controlled ovarian stimulation (COS). This, by creating an adverse intra-ovarian hormonal environment will often disrupt normal egg development and lead to a higher incidence of egg aneuploidy than otherwise might have occurred.  Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are especially vulnerable in this regard.

During the normal, ovulation cycle, ovarian hormonal changes are regulated to avoid irregularities in production and interaction that could adversely influence follicle development and egg quality. As an example, small amounts of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone), that are produced by the ovarian stroma (tissue surrounding ovarian follicles) during the pre-ovulatory phase of the cycle enhance late follicle development, estrogen production by the granulosa cells (that line the inner walls of follicles), and egg maturation. However, over-production of testosterone can adversely influence the same processes. It follows that COS protocols should be individualized and geared toward optimizing follicle growth and development time while avoiding excessive ovarian androgen (testosterone) production and that the hCG “trigger shot” should be carefully timed.

2: The role of ovarian protocol selection on egg/embryo competency and IVF outcome

The importance of the IVF stimulation protocol on egg/embryo quality cannot be overstated. This factor seems often to be overlooked or discounted by t IVF practitioners who use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ovarian stimulation. My experience is that the use of individualized/customized COS protocols can greatly improve IVF outcome. While no one can influence underlying genetics or turn back the clock on a woman’s age, any competent IVF specialist should be able to tailor the protocol for COS to meet the individual needs of the patient.

Gonadotropins (LH and FSH), whether produced by the pituitary gland or administered by way of fertility drugs, have different “targeted” sites of action in the ovary. FSH targets cells that line the inner wall of the follicle (granulosa cells) and also form the cumulus cells that bind the egg to the inner surface of the follicle. Granulosa cells are responsible for estrogen production.

LH, on the other hand, targets the ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca) that surrounds ovarian follicles resulting in the production of male hormones such as testosterone (predominantly), androstenedione and DHEA. These androgens are then transported to the granulosa cells of the adjacent follicles in a “bucket brigade fashion”. There FSH converts testosterone to estradiol, causing granulosa cells to multiply (proliferate) and produce estradiol, follicles to  grows and eggs to develop (ovogenesis) It follows that  ovarian androgens (mainly testosterone) is absolutely indispensable to follicle/ egg growth and development.

However, the emphasis is on a “normal” amount of testosterone. Over-exposure of the follicle to testosterone can in my opinion,  compromise egg development and lead to an increased likelihood of chromosomal irregularities (aneuploid) following LH/hCG-induced egg maturational division (meiosis) and compromise embryo “competency/quality.

Ovarian androgens can also reach the uterine lining where they sometimes will compromise estrogen receptor -induced endometrial growth and development.

A significant percentage of  older women and those who have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) have increased LH activity is increased. Such women either over-produce LH and/or the LH produced is far more biologically active. Chronically increased LH activity leads to overgrowth of ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). This condition, which is often referred to as Stromal Hyperplasia or hyperthecosis can result in  excessive ovarian androgen/testosterone production and poorer egg-embryo quality/competency, Similarly, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also characteristically have Stromal hyperplasia/hyperthecosis due to chronically increased LH activity. Thus they too often manifest with increased ovarian androgen production. It is therefore not surprising that “poor egg/embryo quality” is often also a feature of PCOS.

In my opinion, the over-administration of LH-containing menotropins such as Menopur, [which is comprised of roughly equal amount of FSH and   hCG ,which acts similar to LH)], to older women, women with DOR and those who have PCOS can also lead to reduced egg/embryo competency . Similarly, drugs such as clomiphene or Letrozole that cause the pituitary gland to release excessive amounts of LH, are also potentially harmful to egg development and in my opinion, are best omitted from IVF COS protocols. This is especially the case when it comes to older women and those with DOR, who in my opinion should preferably be stimulated using FSH-dominant products such as Follistim, Puregon, Fostimon and Gonal-F.

Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa): GnRHa such as Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact, Gonopeptyl etc. are often used to launch ovarian stimulation cycles. They act by causing an initial outpouring followed by a depletion of pituitary gonadotropins. This results in LH levels falling to low concentrations, within 4-7 days, thereby establishing a relatively “LH-free environment”. When GnRHa are administered for about 7 days prior to initiating gonadotropin stimulation (“long” pituitary down-regulation”), the LH depletion that will exist when COS is initiated, will usually be protective of subsequent egg development. In contrast, when the GnRHa administration commences along with the initiation of gonadotropin therapy, there will be a resultant immediate surge in the release of pituitary LH with  the potential to increase ovarian testosterone to egg-compromising levels , from the outset of COS. This, in my opinion could be particularly harmful when undertaken in older women and those who have DOR.

GnRH-antagonists such as Ganirelix, Cetrotide and Orgalutron, on the other hand, act very rapidly (within hours) to block pituitary LH release. The purpose in using GnRH antagonists is to prevent the release of LH during COS. In contrast, the LH-lowering effect of GnRH agonists develops over a number of days.

GnRH antagonists are traditionally given, starting after  5th -7th day of gonadotropin stimulation. However, when this is done in older women and those (regardless of age) who have DOR, LH-suppression might be reached too late to prevent the deleterious effect of excessive ovarian androgen production on egg development in the early stage of ovarian stimulation. This is why, it is my preference to administer GnRH-antagonists, starting at the initiation of gonadotropin administration.

Preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):

  • Long GnRH Agonist Protocols: The most prescribed protocol for agonist/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. An agonist (usually, Lupron) is given either in a natural cycle, starting 5-7 days prior to menstruation or is overlapped with the BCP for two days whereupon the latter is stopped and the Lupron, continued until menstruation ensues. The agonist precipitates a rapid rise in FSH and LH level, which is rapidly followed by a precipitous decline in the blood level of both, to near zero. This is followed by uterine withdrawal bleeding (menstruation) within 5-7 days of starting the agonist treatment, whereupon gonadotropin treatment is initiated (preferably within 7-10 days of the onset of menses) while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a relatively “low LH- environment”. Gonadotropin administration continues until the hCG trigger.
  • Short (“Flare”) GnRH-agonist (GnRHa) Protocol: Another GnRHa usage for COS is the so called “(micro) flare protocol”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy commensurate with initiation of gonadotropin administration. The supposed objective is to deliberately allow Lupron to elicit an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release in order to augment FSH administration by increased FSH production. Unfortunately, this “springboard effect” constitutes “a double-edged sword”. While it indeed increases the release of FSH, it at the same time causes a surge in LH release. The latter can evoke excessive ovarian stromal/thecal androgen production which could potentially compromise egg quality, especially when it comes to older women and women with DOR. I am of the opinion that by evoking an exaggerated ovarian androgen response, such “(micro) flare protocols” can harm egg/embryo quality and reduce IVF success rates, especially when it comes to COS in older women, and in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Accordingly, I do not prescribe such protocols to my IVF patients
  • Long-Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP):With a few (notable) exceptions I preferentially advocate this protocol for many of my patients. With the A/ACP, as with the long protocol (see above) the woman again prepares to launch her stimulation cycle by taking a BCP for at least ten days before overlapping with an agonist such as Lupron. However, when about 5-7 days later her menstruation starts, she supplants the agonist with a with 250 mcg) of an antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix, Orgalutron or Cetrotide). Within a few days of this switch-over, gonadotropin stimulation is commenced. Both the antagonist and the gonadotropins are then continued until the hCG trigger. The purpose in switching from agonist to antagonist is to intentionally allow only a very small amount of the woman’s own pituitary LH to enter her blood and reach her ovaries, while at the same time preventing a large amount of LH from reaching her ovaries. This is because while a small amount of LH is essential to promote and optimize FSH-induced follicular growth and egg maturation, a large concentration of LH can trigger over-production of ovarian stromal testosterone, with an adverse effect of follicle/egg/embryo quality. Moreover, since testosterone also down-regulates estrogen receptors in the endometrium, an excess of testosterone can also have an adverse effect on endometrial growth. Also, since agonists might suppress some ovarian response to the gonadotropin stimulation, antagonists do not do so. It is for this reason that the A/ACP is so well suited to older women and those with some degree of diminished ovarian reserve.
  • Agonist/antagonist conversion protocol with estrogen priming:Patients start their treatment cycle on a combined (monophasic) birth control pill-BCP (e.g., Marvelon, Desogen, Orthonovum 135; Low-Estrin…etc.)  for at least 8-10 days (depending on individual circumstances), before commencing controlled ovarian stimulation for IVF. With this approach, a GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron/Superfact/Buserelin/Decapeptyl etc.) is continued until menstruation ensues (usually 5-7 days after commencement of the GnRH-agonist). At this point, the GnRH-agonist is SUPPLANTED with 250mcg GnRH antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix/Cetrotide, Orgalutron) and daily estradiol(E2) “priming” commences using either E2 skin-patches or intramuscular estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) injections, twice weekly while continuing the administration of the GnRH antagonist. Seven (7) days after commencing the E2 skin patches or intramuscular Delestrogen, daily injections of recombinant FSH-(e.g., Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon)  + menotropin (e.g., Menopur)  therapy begins.. This is continued at a modified dosage, along with E2 patches or Delestrogen injections) until the “hCG trigger”. The egg retrieval is performed 36 hours later.

There are a few potential drawback to the use of the A/ACP. We have learned that prolonged use of a GnRH antagonist throughout the ovarian stimulation process can compromise the predictive value of serial plasma E2 measurements to evaluate follicle growth and development. It appears that when the antagonist is given throughout stimulation, the blood E2 levels tend to be significantly lower than when the agonist alone is used or where antagonist treatment is only commenced 5-7 days into the ovarian stimulation process. The reason for this is presently unclear. Accordingly, when the A/ACP is employed, we rely more on follicle size monitoring than on serial blood E2 trends to assess progress.

Also, younger women (under 30 years) and women with absent, irregular or dysfunctional ovulation, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome are at risk of developing life-threatening Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). The prediction of this condition requires daily access to accurate blood E2 levels. Accordingly, we currently tend to refrain from prescribing the A/ACP in such cases, preferring instead use the “standard long-protocol” approach.

  • Short-GnRH antagonist protocols:The use of GnRH antagonists as currently prescribed in ovarian stimulation cycles (i.e. the administration of 250mcg daily starting on the 6th or 7th day of stimulation with gonadotropins) may be problematic, especially in women over 39 yrs., women with diminished ovarian reserve (i.e. “poor responders” to gonadotropins), and women with PCOS. Such women tend to have higher levels of LH to start with and as such the initiation of LH suppression with GnRH antagonists so late in the cycle (usually on day 6-7) of stimulation fails to suppress LH early enough to avoid compromising egg development. This can adversely influence egg/embryo quality and endometrial development. As is the case with the “microflare” approach (see above) the use of GnRH antagonist protocols in younger women who have normal ovarian reserve, is acceptable. Again, for reasons of caution, and because I see no benefit in doing so, I personally never prescribe this approach for my patients. Presumably, the reason for the suggested mid-follicular initiation of high dose GnRH antagonist is to prevent the occurrence of the so called “premature LH surge”, which is known to be associated with “follicular exhaustion” and poor egg/embryo quality. However the term “premature LH surge” is a misnomer and the concept of this being a “terminal event” or an isolated insult is erroneous. In fact, the event is the culmination (end point) of the progressive escalation in LH (“a staircase effect”) which results in increasing ovarian stromal activation with commensurate growing androgen production. Trying to improve ovarian response and protect against follicular exhaustion by administering GnRH antagonists during the final few days of ovarian stimulation is like trying to prevent a shipwreck by removing the tip of an iceberg.
  • Short-GnRH-agonist (“micro-flare”) protocols:Another approach to COH is by way of so-called “microflare protocols”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy simultaneously with the administration of GnRH agonist. The intent is to deliberately allow Lupron to affect an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release to augment ovarian response to the gonadotropin medication. Unfortunately, this approach represents “a double-edged sword” as the resulting increased release of FSH is likely to be accompanied by a concomitant (excessive) rise in LH levels that could evoke excessive production of male hormone by the ovarian stroma. The latter in turn could potentially compromise egg quality, especially in women over 39 years of age, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – all of whose ovaries have increased sensitivity to LH. In this way, “microflare protocols” can potentially hinder egg/embryo development and reduce IVF success rates. While microflare protocols usually are not harmful in younger women and those with normal ovarian reserve, I personally avoid this approach altogether for safety’s sake. The follicles/eggs of women on GnRH-agonist “micro-flare protocols” can be exposed to exaggerated agonist-induced LH release, (the “flare effect”) while the follicles/eggs of women, who receive GnRH antagonists starting 6-8 days following the initiation of stimulation with gonadotropins can likewise be exposed to pituitary LH-induced ovarian male hormones (especially testosterone). While this is not necessarily problematic in younger women and those with adequate ovarian reserve (“normal responders”) it could be decidedly prejudicial in “poor responders” and older women where there is increased follicle and egg vulnerability to high local male hormone levels.
  • The “Trigger Shot”- A Critical Decision:The egg goes through maturational division (meiosis) during the 36-hour period that precedes ovulation or retrieval. The efficiency of this process will determine the outcome of reproduction. It follows that when it comes to ovulation induction, aside from selecting a suitable protocol for COS one of the most important decisions the clinician has to make involves choosing and implementing with logic and precision, the “trigger shot” by which to facilitate meiosis.
    • Urinary versus recombinant hCG:Until quite recently, the standard method used to initiate the “trigger shot” was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. More recently, a recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel) was introduced and marketed in 250 mcg doses. But clinical experience strongly suggests that 250 mcg of Ovidrel is most likely not equivalent in biological potency to 10,000 units of hCG. It probably at best only has 60%of the potency of a 10,000U dose of hCGu and as such might not be sufficient to fully promote meiosis, especially in cases where the woman has numerous follicles. For this reason, I firmly believe that when hCGr is selected as the “trigger shot” the dosage should be doubled to 500 mcg, at which dosage it will probably have an equivalent effect on promoting meiosis as would 10,000 units of hCGu.
    • The dosage of hCG used: Some clinicians, when faced with a risk of OHSS developing will deliberately elect to reduce the dosage of hCG administered as a trigger in the hope that by doing so, the risk of developing critical OHSS will be lowered. It is my opinion that such an approach is not optimal because a low dose of hCG (e.g., 5000 units hCGu or 25omcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis, particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. In my opinion a far better approach is to use a method that I first described in 1989, known as “prolonged coasting”
    • Use of hCG versus a GnRHa(e.g., Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact) as the trigger shot: It has been suggested that the use of an “agonist ( Lupron) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is for this reason that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis in this way (using an agonist-Lupron) rather than through the use of hCG. The agonist promptly causes the woman’s pituitary gland to expunge a large amount of LH over a short period of time and it is this LH “surge” that triggers meiosis. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland of a given patient receiving an agonist trigger shot, especially if the woman was down-regulated using an agonist, or in cases where an antagonist was used to block pituitary LH release. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation, with one important proviso…that she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “trigger”.
    • Combined use of hCG +GnRHa; This approach is preferable to the use of a GnRHa, alone. However, in my opinion is inferior to the appropriate and correct use of hCG, alone.
    • The timing of the trigger shot to initiate meiosis:This should coincide with the majority of ovarian follicles being >15 mm in mean diameter with several follicles having reached 18-22 mm. Follicles of larger than 22 mm will usually harbor overdeveloped eggs which in turn will usually fail to produce good quality eggs. Conversely, follicles less than 15 mm will usually harbor underdeveloped eggs that are more likely to be aneuploid and incompetent following the “trigger”.

Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) and prolonged Coasting”

OHSS is a life-endangering condition that usually occurs in women undergoing COS where the blood E2 level rises to above 4,000pg/ml. The risk escalates to greater than 80% in cases where the E2 level rises above 6,000pg/ml. It rarely occurs in normally ovulating women or older (>39Y) women and is more commonly encountered in:

  • Young women (under 30y) who have a high ovarian reserve(based upon basal FSH and AMH.
  • Women with polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Non-PCOS women who do not ovulate spontaneously

The treating physician should be alerted to the possibility of hyperstimulation when encountering a woman who develops >25 ovarian follicles of 14mm-16mm in mean diameter, in association with a blood E2 level of above 2,5000pg/ml prior to the hCG “trigger”.

OHSS is a self-limiting condition. Its development is linked to the effect of hCG and thus does not occur until the “hCG trigger” is administered. In fact, there is virtually no risk of OHSS until the hCG “trigger” is administered.

Prolonged Coasting” is a procedure I introduced in 1991. It involves abruptly stopping gonadotropin therapy while continuing to administer the GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin) deferring the hCG “trigger” until the woman is out of risk (as evidenced by a fall in plasma estradiol level to below 2,500pg/ml).

It is important that “prolonged coasting” be initiated as soon as two or more follicles have attained a greater diameter than 18mm with at least 50% of the remaining follicles having attained 14-16mm. To start the process of “prolonged coasting” any earlier or any later, while it would still protect against the development of OHSS, would almost certainly result in compromised egg and embryo quality with ultimate failure of the IVF cycle. Simply stated, the precise timing of initiating the process is critical. Proper implementation of PC will almost always prevent OHSS without seriously compromising egg/embryo quality.

Use of the Birth Control Pill (BCP) to launch IVF-COS.

In natural (unstimulated) as well as in cycles stimulated with fertility drugs, the ability of follicles to properly respond to FSH stimulation is dependent on their having developed FSH-responsive receptors. Pre-antral follicles (PAF) do not have such primed FSH receptors and thus cannot respond properly to FSH stimulation with gonadotropins. The acquisition of FSH receptor responsivity requires that the pre-antral follicles be exposed to FSH, for a number of days (5-7) during which time they attain “FSH-responsivity” and are now known as antral follicles (AF). These AF’s are now able to respond properly to stimulation with administered FSH-gonadotropins. In regular menstrual cycles, the rising FSH output from the pituitary gland insures that PAFs convert tor AF’s. The BCP (as well as prolonged administration of estrogen/progesterone) suppresses FSH. This suppression needs to be countered by artificially causing blood FSH levels to rise in order to cause PAF to AF conversion prior to COS commencing, otherwise pre-antral-to –antral follicle conversion will not take place in an orderly fashion, the duration of ovarian stimulation will be prolonged and both follicle and egg development may be compromised. GnRH agonists cause an immediate surge in release of FSH by the pituitary gland thus causing conversion from PAF to SAF. This is why women who take a BCP to launch a cycle of COS need to have an overlap of the BCP with an agonist. By overlapping the BCP with an agonist for a few days prior to menstruation the early recruited follicles are able to complete their developmental drive to the AF stage and as such, be ready to respond appropriately to optimal ovarian stimulation. Using this approach, the timing of the initiation of the IVF treatment cycle can readily and safely be regulated and controlled by varying the length of time that the woman is on the BCP.

Since optimizing follicular response to COS requires that prior to stimulation with gonadotropins, FSH-induced conversion from PAF to AF’s first be completed and the BCP suppresses FSH, it follows when it comes to women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days prior to menstruation heralding the cycle of CO S. This is where overlapping the BCP with a GnRHa comes in. The agonist causes FSH to be released by the pituitary gland and if overlapped with the BCP for several days and this will (within 2-5 days) facilitate PAF to AF conversion…. in time to start COS with the onset of menstruation. Initiating ovarian stimulation in women taking a BCP, without doing this is suboptimal.

3. Endometriosis and Immunologic  Implantation Dysfunction (IID):

More than half of women who have endometriosis harbor antiphospholipid antibodies (APA) that can compromise development of the embryo’s root system (trophoblast). In addition and far more serious, is the fact that in about one third of cases endometriosis, regardless of its severity is associated with NKa and cytotoxic uterine lymphocytes (CTL) which can seriously jeopardize implantation. This immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) is diagnosed by testing the woman’s blood for APA, for NKa (using the K-562 target cell test or by endometrial biopsy for cytokine activity) and, for CTL (by a blood immunophenotype). Activated NK cells attack the invading trophoblast cells (developing “root system” of the embryo/early conceptus) as soon as it tries to gain attachment to the uterine wall. In most cases, this results in rejection of the embryo even before the pregnancy is diagnosed and sometimes, in a chemical pregnancy or an early miscarriage. As such, many women with endometriosis, rather than being infertile, in the strict sense of the word, often actually experience repeated undetected “mini-miscarriages”.

Women who harbor APA’s often experience improved IVF birth rates when heparinoids (Clexane/Lovenox) are administered from the onset of ovarian stimulation with gonadotropins until the 10th week of pregnancy. NKa is treated with a combination of Intralipid (IL) and steroid therapy: Intralipid (IL) is a solution of small lipid droplets suspended in water. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.IL is made up of 20% soybean oil/fatty acids (comprising linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, linolenic acid and stearic acid) , 1.2% egg yolk phospholipids (1.2%), glycerin (2.25%)  and water (76.5%).IL exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating NKa.

The therapeutic effect of IL/steroid therapy is likely due to an ability to suppress pro-inflammatory cellular (Type-1) cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha. IL/steroids down-regulates NKa within 2-3 weeks of treatment the vast majority of women experiencing immunologic implantation dysfunction. In this regard IL is just as effective as Intravenous Gamma globulin (IVIg) but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for 4-9 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

The toxic pelvic environment caused by endometriosis, profoundly reduces natural fertilization potential. As a result normally ovulating infertile women with endometriosis and patent Fallopian tubes are much less likely to conceive naturally, or by using fertility agents alone (with or without intrauterine (IUI) insemination. The only effective way to bypass this adverse pelvic environment is through IVF. I am not suggesting here that all women who have endometriosis require IVF! Rather, I am saying that  in cases where  the condition is further compromised by an IID associated with NKa and/or for older women(over 35y)  who have  diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where time is of the essence, it is my opinion that IVF is the treatment of choice.

4. Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET)

Until less than a decade ago, most women undergoing IVF would have embryos transferred to the uterus in the same cycle that the egg retrieval was performed (“Fresh” Embryo Transfer). This was because embryo cryopreservation (freezing) was a hazardous undertaking.  In fact, it resulted in about 30% not surviving the freezing process and those that did, having about one half the potential of “fresh embryos to implant and propagate a viable pregnancy. The main reason for the high attrition rate associated with embryo cryopreservation is that the “conventional” freezing” process that was done slowly and this resulted in ice forming within the embryo’s cells, damaging or destroying them. The introduction of an ultra-rapid cryopreservation process (vitrification) freezes the embryos so rapidly as to avoid ice crystals from developing. As a result, >90% survive the freeze/thaw process in as good a condition as they were prior to being frozen and thus without being compromised in their ability to propagate a viable pregnancy.

Recently, there have been several articles that have appeared in the literature suggest that an altered hormonal environment may be the reason for this effect.  There have also been reports showing that when singletons (pregnancy with one baby) conceived naturally are compared to singletons conceived through a “fresh” embryo transfers they tend to have a greater chance of low birth weight/prematurity. This difference was not observed in babies born following FET.  Hence, there is a suspicion that the altered hormonal environment during the fresh cycle may be the causative factor.

Available evidence suggests that FET (of pre-vitrified blastocysts) is at least as successful as is the transfer of “fresh” embryos and might even have the edge. The reason for this is certainly unlikely to have anything to do with the freezing process itself. It more than likely  has to do with two factors:

  1. An ever increasing percentage of FET’s involve the transfer of PGS-tested, fully karyotyped, euploid blastocysts that have a greater potential to propagate viable pregnancies, than is the case with “fresh” ET’s where the embryos have rarely undergone prior PGS selection for “competency”…and,
  2. With targeted hormone replacement therapy for FET, one is far better able to better to optimally prepare the endometrium for healthy implantation than is the case where embryos are transferre3d following ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs.

There are additional factors other than method used for embryo cryopreservation that influence outcome following FET. These include

  • An emerging trend towards selective transferring only advanced (day 5-6) embryos (blastocysts).
  •  (PGS) to allow for the selective transfer of genetic competent (euploid) embryos
  • Addressing underlying causes of implantation dysfunction (anatomical and immunologic uterine factors) and
  •  Exclusive use of ultrasound guidance for delivery of embryos transferred to the uterus.

Against this background, the use of FET has several decided advantages:

  • The ability to cryostore surplus embryos left over after fresh embryo transfer
  • The ability to safely hold embryos over for subsequent transfer in a later frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycle (i.e. Staggered IVF) in cases where:
    1. Additional time is needed to perform preimplantation Genetic testing for embryo competency.
    2. In cases where ovarian hyperstimulation increases the risk of life-endangering complications associated with critically severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
    3. To bank (stockpile) embryos for selective transfer of karyotypically normal embryos in older women or those who are diminished ovarian reserve
    4. The ability to store embryos in cases of IVF with third party parenting (Egg Donation; Gestational Surrogacy and Embryo donation) and so improve convenience for those couples seeking such services.

Preimplantation Genetic Sampling with FET:

The introduction of preimplantation genetic sampling (PGS) to karyotyping of embryos for selective transfer of the most “competent” embryos, requires in most cases that the tested blastocysts be vitribanked while awaiting test results and then transferred to the uterus at a later date. Many IVF programs have advocated the routine use of PGS in IVF purported to improve IVF outcome. But PGS should in my opinion should only be used selectively. I do not believe that it is needed for all women undergoing IVF. First there is the significant additional cost involved and second it will not benefit everyone undergoing IVF, in my opinion.

While PGS is a good approach for older women and those with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) and also for woman who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL) or “unexplained” recurrent IVF failure recent data suggests that it will not improve IVF success rates in  women under 36Y  who have normal ovarian reserve, who represent the majority of women seeking IVF treatment. Nor is it needed in women (regardless of their age) undergoing IVF with eggs donated by a younger donor.  This is because in such women about 1:2/3 of their eggs/embryos are usually chromosomally normal, and in most cases will upon fertilization produce multiple blastocysts per IVF attempt, anyway. Thus in such cases the transfer of 2 blastocysts will likely yield the same outcome regardless of whether the embryos had been subjected to PGS or not. The routine use of

It is another matter when it comes to women who have diminished ovarian reserve and/or DOR contemplating embryo banking and for women with unexplained recurrent IVF failure, recurrent pregnancy loss and women with alloimmune implantation dysfunction who regardless of their age or ovarian reserve require PGS for diagnostic reasons.

Embryo Banking: Some IVF centers are doing embryo banking cycles with Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS).  With Embryo Banking” several IVF cycles are performed sequentially (usually about 2 months apart), up to the egg retrieval stage. The eggs are fertilized and the resulting advanced embryos are biopsied. The biopsy specimens are held over until enough 4-8 blastocysts have been vitribanked, thus providing a reasonable likelihood that one or more will turn out to be PGS-normal. At this point the biopsy specimens (derived all banking cycles) are sent for PGS testing at one time (a significant cost-saver), the chromosomally normal blastocysts are identified and the women are scheduled for timed FET procedures….. with a good prospect of  a markedly improved chance of success as well as a reduced risk of miscarriage.

Standard (proposed) Regimen for preparing the uterus for frozen embryo transfer FET) is as follows:

The recipient’s cycle is initiated with an oral contraceptive-OC (e.g. Marvelon/Lo-Estrin; Lo-Ovral etc) for at least 10 days. This is later overlapped with 0.5 mg. (10 units) Lupron/Lucrin (or Superfact/Buserelin) daily for 3 days. Thereupon the OC is withdrawn and daily 0.25 mg (5 units) of Lupron/Lucrin/Superfact injections are continued. Menstruation will usually ensue within 1 week. At this point, an ultrasound examination is performed to exclude ovarian cyst(s) and a blood estradiol measurement is taken (it needs to be <70pg/ml) until daily progesterone administration is initiated some time later. The daily Lupron/Lucrin/Superfact is continued until the initiation of progesterone therapy (see below).

 

Four milligram (4mg) Estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) IM is injected SC, twice weekly (on Tuesday and Friday), commencing within a few days of Lupron/Lucrin/Superfact-induced menstruation. Blood is drawn on Monday and Thursday for measurement of blood [E2].  This allows for planned adjustment of the E2V dosage scheduled for the next day. The objective is to achieve a plasma E2 concentration of 500-1,000pg/ml and an endometrial lining of >8mm, as assessed by ultrasound examination done after 10 days of estrogen exposure i.e. a day after the 3rd dosage of Delestrogen..  The twice weekly, final (adjusted) dosage of E2V is continued until pregnancy is discounted by blood testing or an ultrasound examination. Dexamethasone 0.75 mg is taken orally, daily with the start of the Lupron/Lucrin/Superfact. Oral folic acid (1 mg) is taken daily commencing with the first E2V injection and is continued throughout gestation. Patients also receive Ciprofloxin 500mg BID orally starting with the initiation of Progesterone therapy and continuing for 10 days.

Luteal support commences 6 days prior to the ET, with intramuscular progesterone in oil (PIO) at an initial dose of 50 mg (P4-Day 1).  Starting on progesterone administration-Day 2, PIO is increased to 100 mg daily continuing until the 10th week of pregnancy, or until a blood pregnancy test/negative ultrasound (after the 6-7th gestational week), discounts a viable pregnancy.

Also, commencing on the day following the ET, the patient inserts one (1) vaginal progesterone suppository (100 mg) in the morning + 2mg E2V vaginal suppository (in the evening) and this is continued until the 10th week of pregnancy or until pregnancy is discounted by blood testing or by an ultrasound examination after the 6-7th gestational week. Dexamethasone o.75mg is continued to the 10th week of pregnancy (tailed off from the 8th to 10th week) or as soon as pregnancy is ruled out. With the obvious exception of the fact that embryo recipients do not receive an hCG injections, luteal phase and early pregnancy hormonal support and immuno-suppression is otherwise the same as for conventional IVF patients.  Blood pregnancy tests are performed 13 days and 15 days after the first P4 injection was given.

Note: One (1) vaginal application of Crinone 8% is administered on the 1st day (referred to as luteal phase day 0 – LPO). On LP Day 1, they will commence the administration of Crinone 8% twice daily (AM and PM) until the day of embryo transfer.  Withhold Crinone on the morning of the embryo transfer and resume Crinone administration in the PM.   Crinone twice daily is resumed from the day after embryo transfer. Contingent upon positive blood pregnancy tests, and subsequently upon the ultrasound confirmation of a viable pregnancy, administration of Crinone twice daily are continued until the 10th week of pregnancy.

Regime for Thawing and Transferring Cryopreserved Embryos/Morulae/Blastocysts:

 

Patients undergoing ET with cryopreserved embryos/morulas/blastocysts will have their embryos thawed and transferred by the following regimen.

 

  Day 2 (P4) Day 6 (P4)
PN Thaw ET
Day 3 Embryo   ET
Blastocysts frozen on day 5 post-ER   FET
Blastocysts frozen on day 6, post-ER   FET

 

Read the information above and once having done so, might I suggest you contact my assistant, Patti Converse (702-533-2691) and set up an online consultation with me. I think I can help you!

 

Geoff Sher

Name: Crystal M

November 30, 2022
Hi Dr. Sher, I love listening to you and first discovered you on the Dr. Aimee show! Thank you for all you have done and do in this field! I am 37 years old with 2 LB’s, AMH is 6.37mg/dl afc 24+. I have a history of recurrent chemical pregnancy, about 12-15. I have had… Read More »

Answer:

Q1. How likely could the negative impacts of potential endometriosis, such as poorer egg quality have on RPL in my case? I don’t have any endometriomas, good reserve, clear tubes etc. It seems that more studies link endometriosis to infertility vs. RPL, specifically chemical pregnancy? I’m concerned if the issue is “seed vs. soil.” I am AMA now but I began having recurrent chemical pregnancy starting at 29 after my first child. I’ve had 1LB at 27 and another at 31 yrs old-natural cycles.

A:When women with infertility due to endometriosis seek treatment, they are all too often advised to first try ovarian stimulation (ovulation Induction) with intrauterine insemination (IUI) ………as if to say that this would be just as likely to result in a baby as would in vitro fertilization (IVF). Nothing could be further from reality It is time to set the record straight. And hence this communication!

Bear in mind that the cost of treatment comprises both financial and emotional components and that it is the cost of having a baby rather than cost of a procedure. Then consider the fact that regardless of her age or the severity of the condition, women with infertility due to endometriosis are several fold more likely to have a baby per treatment cycle of IVF than with IUI. It follows that there is a distinct advantage in doing IVF first, rather than as a last resort.

So then, why is it that ovulation induction with or without IUI is routinely offered proposed preferentially to women with mild to moderately severe endometriosis? Could it in part be due to the fact that most practicing doctors do not provide IVF services but are indeed remunerated for ovarian stimulation and IUI services and are thus economically incentivized to offer IUI as a first line approach? Or is because of the often erroneous belief that the use of fertility drugs will in all cases induce the release (ovulation) of multiple eggs at a time and thereby increase the chance of a pregnancy. The truth however is that while normally ovulating women (the majority of women who have mild to moderately severe endometriosis) respond to ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs by forming multiple follicles, they rarely ovulate > 1 (or at most 2) egg at a time. This is because such women usually only develop a single dominant follicle which upon ovulating leaves the others intact. This is the reason why normally ovulating women who undergo ovulation induction usually will not experience improved pregnancy potential, nor will they have a marked increase in multiple pregnancies. Conversely, non-ovulating women (as well as those with dysfunctional ovulation) who undergo ovulation induction, almost always develop multiple large follicles that tend to ovulate in unison. This increases the potential to conceive along with an increased risk multiple pregnancies.

 

So let me take a stab at explaining why IVF is more successful than IUI or surgical correction in the treatment of endometriosis-related infertility:

  1. The toxic pelvic factor: Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. While this process begins early in the reproductive life of a woman, with notable exceptions, it only becomes manifest in the 2ndhalf of her reproductive life. After some time, these deposits bleed and when the blood absorbs it leaves a visible pigment that can be identified upon surgical exposure of the pelvis. Such endometriotic deposits invariably produce and release toxins” into the pelvic secretions that coat the surface of the membrane (the peritoneum) that envelops all abdominal and pelvic organs, including the uterus, tubes and ovaries. These toxins are referred to as “the peritoneal factor”. Following ovulation, the egg(s) must pass from the ovary (ies), through these toxic secretions to reach the sperm lying in wait in the outer part the fallopian tube (s) tube(s) where, the sperm lie in waiting. In the process of going from the ovary(ies) to the Fallopian tube(s) these eggs become exposed to the “peritoneal toxins” which alter s the envelopment of the egg (i.e. zona pellucida) making it much less receptive to being fertilized by sperm. As a consequence, if they are chromosomally normal such eggs are rendered much less likely to be successfully fertilized. Since almost all women with endometriosis have this problem, it is not difficult to understand why they are far less likely to conceive following ovulation (whether natural or induced through ovulation induction). This “toxic peritoneal factor impacts on eggs that are ovulated whether spontaneously (as in natural cycles) or following the use of fertility drugs and serves to explain why the chance of pregnancy is so significantly reduced in normally ovulating women with endometriosis.
  2. The Immunologic Factor: About one third of women who have endometriosis will also have an immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to activation of uterine natural killer cells (NKa).  This will require selective immunotherapy with Intralipid infusions, and/or heparinoids (e.g. Clexane/Lovenox) that is much more effectively implemented in combination with IVF.
  3. Surgical treatment of mild to moderate endometriosis does not usually improve pregnancy potential:. The reason is that endometriosis can be considered to be a “work in progress”. New lesions are constantly developing. So it is that for every endometriotic seen there are usually many non-pigmented deposits that are in the process of evolving but are not yet visible to the naked eye and such evolving (non-visible) lesions can also release the same “toxins that compromise fertilization. Accordingly, even after surgical removal of all visible lesions the invisible ones continue to release “toxins” and retain the ability to compromise natural fertilization. It also explains why surgery to remove endometriotic deposits in women with mild to moderate endometriosis usually will fail to significantly improve pregnancy generating potential. In contrast, IVF, by removing eggs from the ovaries prior to ovulation, fertilizing these outside of the body and then transferring the resulting embryo(s) to the uterus, bypasses the toxic pelvic environment and is therefore is the treatment of choice in cases of endometriosis-related infertility.
  4. Ovarian Endometriomas: Women, who have advanced endometriosis, often have endometriotic ovarian cysts, known as endometriomas. These cysts contain decomposed menstrual blood that looks like melted chocolate…hence the name “chocolate cysts”. These space occupying lesions can activate ovarian connective tissue (stroma or theca) resulting in an overproduction of male hormones (especially testosterone). An excess of ovarian testosterone can severely compromise follicle and egg development in the affected ovary. Thus there are two reasons for treating endometriomas. The first is to alleviate symptoms and the second is to optimize egg and embryo quality. Conventional treatment of endometriomas involves surgical drainage of the cyst contents with subsequent removal of the cyst wall (usually by laparoscopy), increasing the risk of surgical complications. We recently reported on a new, effective and safe outpatient approach to treating endometriomas in women planning to undergo IVF. We termed the treatment ovarian Sclerotherapy.  The process involves; needle aspiration of the “chocolate colored liquid content of the endometriotic cyst, followed by the injection of 5% tetracycline hydrochloride into the cyst cavity. Such treatment will, more than 75% of the time result in disappearance of the lesion within 6-8 weeks. Ovarian sclerotherapy can be performed under local anesthesia or under conscious sedation. It is a safe and effective alternative to surgery for definitive treatment of recurrent ovarian endometriomas in a select group of patients planning to undergo IVF

 

 

 I am not suggesting that all women with infertility-related endometriosis should automatically resort to IVF. Quite to the contrary…. In spite of having reduced fertility potential, many women with mild to moderate endometriosis can and do go on to conceive on their own (without treatment). It is just that the chance of this happening is so is much lower than normal.

IN SUMMARY: For young ovulating women (< 35 years of age ) with endometriosis, who have normal reproductive anatomy and have fertile male partners, expectant treatment is often preferable to IUI or IVF. However, for older women, women who (regardless of their age) have any additional factor (e.g. pelvic adhesions, ovarian endometriomas, male infertility, IID or diminished ovarian reserve-DOR) IVF should be

Q2. Is there an element of immunological factors associated with endometriosis in the uterine cavity at the window of implantation that could be causing RPL and is there anything I can do other than IVF to overcome these factors?

A. More than half of women who have endometriosis harbor antiphospholipid antibodies (APA) that can compromise development of the embryo’s root system (trophoblast). In addition and far more serious, is the fact that in about one third of cases endometriosis, regardless of its severity is associated with NKa and cytotoxic uterine lymphocytes (CTL) which can seriously jeopardize implantation. This immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) is diagnosed by testing the woman’s blood for APA, for NKa (using the K-562 target cell test or by endometrial biopsy for cytokine activity) and, for CTL (by a blood immunophenotype). Activated NK cells attack the invading trophoblast cells (developing “root system” of the embryo/early conceptus) as soon as it tries to gain attachment to the uterine wall. In most cases, this results in rejection of the embryo even before the pregnancy is diagnosed and sometimes, in a chemical pregnancy or an early miscarriage. As such, many women with endometriosis, rather than being infertile, in the strict sense of the word, often actually experience repeated undetected “mini-miscarriages”.

Women who harbor APA’s often experience improved IVF birth rates when heparinoids (Clexane/Lovenox) are administered from the onset of ovarian stimulation with gonadotropins until the 10th week of pregnancy. NKa is treated with a combination of Intralipid (IL) and steroid therapy: Intralipid (IL) is a solution of small lipid droplets suspended in water. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.IL is made up of 20% soybean oil/fatty acids (comprising linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, linolenic acid and stearic acid) , 1.2% egg yolk phospholipids (1.2%), glycerin (2.25%)  and water (76.5%).IL exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating NKa.

The therapeutic effect of IL/steroid therapy is likely due to an ability to suppress pro-inflammatory cellular (Type-1) cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha. IL/steroids down-regulates NKa within 2-3 weeks of treatment the vast majority of women experiencing immunologic implantation dysfunction. In this regard IL is just as effective as Intravenous Gamma globulin (IVIg) but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for 4-9 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

The toxic pelvic environment caused by endometriosis, profoundly reduces natural fertilization potential. As a result normally ovulating infertile women with endometriosis and patent Fallopian tubes are much less likely to conceive naturally, or by using fertility agents alone (with or without intrauterine (IUI) insemination. The only effective way to bypass this adverse pelvic environment is through IVF. I am not suggesting here that all women who have endometriosis require IVF! Rather, I am saying that  in cases where  the condition is further compromised by an IID associated with NKa and/or for older women(over 35y)  who have  diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where time is of the essence, it is my opinion that IVF is the treatment of choice.

3.Can a small polyp(s) be missed on TSV US and would a small polyp interfere with implantation to this degree to cause multiple biochemcial pregnancy loss?

A: It could !

 

I really think we should talk> I suggest that you contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me.

Geoff Sher

Name: Maya S

November 29, 2022
I recently completed my 2nd egg retrieval at age 36 and had very different results. I have PCOS (high AMH =15 and many follicles, regular periods, thin/normal BMI ) and respond well to meds. We used 75 Menopur, 100 Gonal F, 25 HGH, Lovenox, Fyremadel, dual trigger with HCG and Lupron. Had 49 retrieved, 25… Read More »

Answer:

It could be an inherent underlying egg defect. However, more commonly it has to do with the selection of an optimal protocol for ovarian stimulation, the type of “trigger used” and the implementation of said protocol.

 

The importance of the IVF stimulation protocol on egg/embryo quality cannot be overstated. This factor seems often to be overlooked or discounted by t IVF practitioners who use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ovarian stimulation. My experience is that the use of individualized/customized COS protocols can greatly improve IVF outcome. While no one can influence underlying genetics or turn back the clock on a woman’s age, any competent IVF specialist should be able to tailor the protocol for COS to meet the individual needs of the patient.

Gonadotropins (LH and FSH), whether produced by the pituitary gland or administered by way of fertility drugs, have different “targeted” sites of action in the ovary. FSH targets cells that line the inner wall of the follicle (granulosa cells) and also form the cumulus cells that bind the egg to the inner surface of the follicle. Granulosa cells are responsible for estrogen production.

LH, on the other hand, targets the ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca) that surrounds ovarian follicles resulting in the production of male hormones such as testosterone (predominantly), androstenedione and DHEA. These androgens are then transported to the granulosa cells of the adjacent follicles in a “bucket brigade fashion”. There FSH converts testosterone to estradiol, causing granulosa cells to multiply (proliferate) and produce estradiol, follicles to  grows and eggs to develop (ovogenesis) It follows that  ovarian androgens (mainly testosterone) is absolutely indispensable to follicle/ egg growth and development.

However, the emphasis is on a “normal” amount of testosterone. Over-exposure of the follicle to testosterone can in my opinion,  compromise egg development and lead to an increased likelihood of chromosomal irregularities (aneuploid) following LH/hCG-induced egg maturational division (meiosis) and compromise embryo “competency/quality.

Ovarian androgens can also reach the uterine lining where they sometimes will compromise estrogen receptor -induced endometrial growth and development.

A significant percentage of  older women and those who have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) have increased LH activity is increased. Such women either over-produce LH and/or the LH produced is far more biologically active. Chronically increased LH activity leads to overgrowth of ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). This condition, which is often referred to as Stromal Hyperplasia or hyperthecosis can result in  excessive ovarian androgen/testosterone production and poorer egg-embryo quality/competency, Similarly, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also characteristically have Stromal hyperplasia/hyperthecosis due to chronically increased LH activity. Thus they too often manifest with increased ovarian androgen production. It is therefore not surprising that “poor egg/embryo quality” is often also a feature of PCOS.

In my opinion, the over-administration of LH-containing menotropins such as Menopur, [which is comprised of roughly equal amount of FSH and   hCG ,which acts similar to LH)], to older women, women with DOR and those who have PCOS can also lead to reduced egg/embryo competency . Similarly, drugs such as clomiphene or Letrozole that cause the pituitary gland to release excessive amounts of LH, are also potentially harmful to egg development and in my opinion, are best omitted from IVF COS protocols. This is especially the case when it comes to older women and those with DOR, who in my opinion should preferably be stimulated using FSH-dominant products such as Follistim, Puregon, Fostimon and Gonal-F. 

Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa): GnRHa such as Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact, Gonopeptyl etc. are often used to launch ovarian stimulation cycles. They act by causing an initial outpouring followed by a depletion of pituitary gonadotropins. This results in LH levels falling to low concentrations, within 4-7 days, thereby establishing a relatively “LH-free environment”. When GnRHa are administered for about 7 days prior to initiating gonadotropin stimulation (“long” pituitary down-regulation”), the LH depletion that will exist when COS is initiated, will usually be protective of subsequent egg development. In contrast, when the GnRHa administration commences along with the initiation of gonadotropin therapy, there will be a resultant immediate surge in the release of pituitary LH with  the potential to increase ovarian testosterone to egg-compromising levels , from the outset of COS. This, in my opinion could be particularly harmful when undertaken in older women and those who have DOR.

GnRH-antagonists such as Ganirelix, Cetrotide and Orgalutron, on the other hand, act very rapidly (within hours) to block pituitary LH release. The purpose in using GnRH antagonists is to prevent the release of LH during COS. In contrast, the LH-lowering effect of GnRH agonists develops over a number of days.

GnRH antagonists are traditionally given, starting after  5th -7th day of gonadotropin stimulation. However, when this is done in older women and those (regardless of age) who have DOR, LH-suppression might be reached too late to prevent the deleterious effect of excessive ovarian androgen production on egg development in the early stage of ovarian stimulation. This is why, it is my preference to administer GnRH-antagonists, starting at the initiation of gonadotropin administration.

Preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):

  • Long GnRH Agonist Protocols: The most prescribed protocol for agonist/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. An agonist (usually, Lupron) is given either in a natural cycle, starting 5-7 days prior to menstruation or is overlapped with the BCP for two days whereupon the latter is stopped and the Lupron, continued until menstruation ensues. The agonist precipitates a rapid rise in FSH and LH level, which is rapidly followed by a precipitous decline in the blood level of both, to near zero. This is followed by uterine withdrawal bleeding (menstruation) within 5-7 days of starting the agonist treatment, whereupon gonadotropin treatment is initiated (preferably within 7-10 days of the onset of menses) while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a relatively “low LH- environment”. Gonadotropin administration continues until the hCG trigger.
  • Short (“Flare”) GnRH-agonist (GnRHa) Protocol: Another GnRHa usage for COS is the so called “(micro) flare protocol”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy commensurate with initiation of gonadotropin administration. The supposed objective is to deliberately allow Lupron to elicit an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release in order to augment FSH administration by increased FSH production. Unfortunately, this “springboard effect” constitutes “a double-edged sword”. While it indeed increases the release of FSH, it at the same time causes a surge in LH release. The latter can evoke excessive ovarian stromal/thecal androgen production which could potentially compromise egg quality, especially when it comes to older women and women with DOR. I am of the opinion that by evoking an exaggerated ovarian androgen response, such “(micro) flare protocols” can harm egg/embryo quality and reduce IVF success rates, especially when it comes to COS in older women, and in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Accordingly, I do not prescribe such protocols to my IVF patients
  • Long-Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP):With a few (notable) exceptions I preferentially advocate this protocol for many of my patients. With the A/ACP, as with the long protocol (see above) the woman again prepares to launch her stimulation cycle by taking a BCP for at least ten days before overlapping with an agonist such as Lupron. However, when about 5-7 days later her menstruation starts, she supplants the agonist with a with 250 mcg) of an antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix, Orgalutron or Cetrotide). Within a few days of this switch-over, gonadotropin stimulation is commenced. Both the antagonist and the gonadotropins are then continued until the hCG trigger. The purpose in switching from agonist to antagonist is to intentionally allow only a very small amount of the woman’s own pituitary LH to enter her blood and reach her ovaries, while at the same time preventing a large amount of LH from reaching her ovaries. This is because while a small amount of LH is essential to promote and optimize FSH-induced follicular growth and egg maturation, a large concentration of LH can trigger over-production of ovarian stromal testosterone, with an adverse effect of follicle/egg/embryo quality. Moreover, since testosterone also down-regulates estrogen receptors in the endometrium, an excess of testosterone can also have an adverse effect on endometrial growth. Also, since agonists might suppress some ovarian response to the gonadotropin stimulation, antagonists do not do so. It is for this reason that the A/ACP is so well suited to older women and those with some degree of diminished ovarian reserve.
  • Agonist/antagonist conversion protocol with estrogen priming:Patients start their treatment cycle on a combined (monophasic) birth control pill-BCP (e.g., Marvelon, Desogen, Orthonovum 135; Low-Estrin…etc.)  for at least 8-10 days (depending on individual circumstances), before commencing controlled ovarian stimulation for IVF. With this approach, a GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron/Superfact/Buserelin/Decapeptyl etc.) is continued until menstruation ensues (usually 5-7 days after commencement of the GnRH-agonist). At this point, the GnRH-agonist is SUPPLANTED with 250mcg GnRH antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix/Cetrotide, Orgalutron) and daily estradiol(E2) “priming” commences using either E2 skin-patches or intramuscular estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) injections, twice weekly while continuing the administration of the GnRH antagonist. Seven (7) days after commencing the E2 skin patches or intramuscular Delestrogen, daily injections of recombinant FSH-(e.g., Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon)  + menotropin (e.g., Menopur)  therapy begins.. This is continued at a modified dosage, along with E2 patches or Delestrogen injections) until the “hCG trigger”. The egg retrieval is performed 36 hours later.

There are a few potential drawback to the use of the A/ACP. We have learned that prolonged use of a GnRH antagonist throughout the ovarian stimulation process can compromise the predictive value of serial plasma E2 measurements to evaluate follicle growth and development. It appears that when the antagonist is given throughout stimulation, the blood E2 levels tend to be significantly lower than when the agonist alone is used or where antagonist treatment is only commenced 5-7 days into the ovarian stimulation process. The reason for this is presently unclear. Accordingly, when the A/ACP is employed, we rely more on follicle size monitoring than on serial blood E2 trends to assess progress.

Also, younger women (under 30 years) and women with absent, irregular or dysfunctional ovulation, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome are at risk of developing life-threatening Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). The prediction of this condition requires daily access to accurate blood E2 levels. Accordingly, we currently tend to refrain from prescribing the A/ACP in such cases, preferring instead use the “standard long-protocol” approach.

  • Short-GnRH antagonist protocols:The use of GnRH antagonists as currently prescribed in ovarian stimulation cycles (i.e. the administration of 250mcg daily starting on the 6th or 7th day of stimulation with gonadotropins) may be problematic, especially in women over 39 yrs., women with diminished ovarian reserve (i.e. “poor responders” to gonadotropins), and women with PCOS. Such women tend to have higher levels of LH to start with and as such the initiation of LH suppression with GnRH antagonists so late in the cycle (usually on day 6-7) of stimulation fails to suppress LH early enough to avoid compromising egg development. This can adversely influence egg/embryo quality and endometrial development. As is the case with the “microflare” approach (see above) the use of GnRH antagonist protocols in younger women who have normal ovarian reserve, is acceptable. Again, for reasons of caution, and because I see no benefit in doing so, I personally never prescribe this approach for my patients. Presumably, the reason for the suggested mid-follicular initiation of high dose GnRH antagonist is to prevent the occurrence of the so called “premature LH surge”, which is known to be associated with “follicular exhaustion” and poor egg/embryo quality. However the term “premature LH surge” is a misnomer and the concept of this being a “terminal event” or an isolated insult is erroneous. In fact, the event is the culmination (end point) of the progressive escalation in LH (“a staircase effect”) which results in increasing ovarian stromal activation with commensurate growing androgen production. Trying to improve ovarian response and protect against follicular exhaustion by administering GnRH antagonists during the final few days of ovarian stimulation is like trying to prevent a shipwreck by removing the tip of an iceberg.
  • Short-GnRH-agonist (“micro-flare”) protocols:Another approach to COH is by way of so-called “microflare protocols”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy simultaneously with the administration of GnRH agonist. The intent is to deliberately allow Lupron to affect an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release to augment ovarian response to the gonadotropin medication. Unfortunately, this approach represents “a double-edged sword” as the resulting increased release of FSH is likely to be accompanied by a concomitant (excessive) rise in LH levels that could evoke excessive production of male hormone by the ovarian stroma. The latter in turn could potentially compromise egg quality, especially in women over 39 years of age, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – all of whose ovaries have increased sensitivity to LH. In this way, “microflare protocols” can potentially hinder egg/embryo development and reduce IVF success rates. While microflare protocols usually are not harmful in younger women and those with normal ovarian reserve, I personally avoid this approach altogether for safety’s sake. The follicles/eggs of women on GnRH-agonist “micro-flare protocols” can be exposed to exaggerated agonist-induced LH release, (the “flare effect”) while the follicles/eggs of women, who receive GnRH antagonists starting 6-8 days following the initiation of stimulation with gonadotropins can likewise be exposed to pituitary LH-induced ovarian male hormones (especially testosterone). While this is not necessarily problematic in younger women and those with adequate ovarian reserve (“normal responders”) it could be decidedly prejudicial in “poor responders” and older women where there is increased follicle and egg vulnerability to high local male hormone levels.
  • The “Trigger Shot”- A Critical Decision:The egg goes through maturational division (meiosis) during the 36-hour period that precedes ovulation or retrieval. The efficiency of this process will determine the outcome of reproduction. It follows that when it comes to ovulation induction, aside from selecting a suitable protocol for COS one of the most important decisions the clinician has to make involves choosing and implementing with logic and precision, the “trigger shot” by which to facilitate meiosis.
    • Urinary versus recombinant hCG:Until quite recently, the standard method used to initiate the “trigger shot” was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. More recently, a recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel) was introduced and marketed in 250 mcg doses. But clinical experience strongly suggests that 250 mcg of Ovidrel is most likely not equivalent in biological potency to 10,000 units of hCG. It probably at best only has 60%of the potency of a 10,000U dose of hCGu and as such might not be sufficient to fully promote meiosis, especially in cases where the woman has numerous follicles. For this reason, I firmly believe that when hCGr is selected as the “trigger shot” the dosage should be doubled to 500 mcg, at which dosage it will probably have an equivalent effect on promoting meiosis as would 10,000 units of hCGu.
    • The dosage of hCG used: Some clinicians, when faced with a risk of OHSS developing will deliberately elect to reduce the dosage of hCG administered as a trigger in the hope that by doing so, the risk of developing critical OHSS will be lowered. It is my opinion that such an approach is not optimal because a low dose of hCG (e.g., 5000 units hCGu or 25omcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis, particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. In my opinion a far better approach is to use a method that I first described in 1989, known as “prolonged coasting”
    • Use of hCG versus a GnRHa(e.g., Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact) as the trigger shot: It has been suggested that the use of an “agonist ( Lupron) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is for this reason that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis in this way (using an agonist-Lupron) rather than through the use of hCG. The agonist promptly causes the woman’s pituitary gland to expunge a large amount of LH over a short period of time and it is this LH “surge” that triggers meiosis. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland of a given patient receiving an agonist trigger shot, especially if the woman was down-regulated using an agonist, or in cases where an antagonist was used to block pituitary LH release. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation, with one important proviso…that she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “trigger”.
    • Combined use of hCG +GnRHa; This approach is preferable to the use of a GnRHa, alone. However, in my opinion is inferior to the appropriate and correct use of hCG, alone.
    • The timing of the trigger shot to initiate meiosis:This should coincide with the majority of ovarian follicles being >15 mm in mean diameter with several follicles having reached 18-22 mm. Follicles of larger than 22 mm will usually harbor overdeveloped eggs which in turn will usually fail to produce good quality eggs. Conversely, follicles less than 15 mm will usually harbor underdeveloped eggs that are more likely to be aneuploid and incompetent following the “trigger”.

Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) and prolonged Coasting”

OHSS is a life-endangering condition that usually occurs in women undergoing COS where the blood E2 level rises to above 4,000pg/ml. The risk escalates to greater than 80% in cases where the E2 level rises above 6,000pg/ml. It rarely occurs in normally ovulating women or older (>39Y) women and is more commonly encountered in:

  • Young women (under 30y) who have a high ovarian reserve(based upon basal FSH and AMH.
  • Women with polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Non-PCOS women who do not ovulate spontaneously

The treating physician should be alerted to the possibility of hyperstimulation when encountering a woman who develops >25 ovarian follicles of 14mm-16mm in mean diameter, in association with a blood E2 level of above 2,5000pg/ml prior to the hCG “trigger”.

OHSS is a self-limiting condition. Its development is linked to the effect of hCG and thus does not occur until the “hCG trigger” is administered. In fact, there is virtually no risk of OHSS until the hCG “trigger” is administered.

Prolonged Coasting” is a procedure I introduced in 1991. It involves abruptly stopping gonadotropin therapy while continuing to administer the GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin) deferring the hCG “trigger” until the woman is out of risk (as evidenced by a fall in plasma estradiol level to below 2,500pg/ml).

It is important that “prolonged coasting” be initiated as soon as two or more follicles have attained a greater diameter than 18mm with at least 50% of the remaining follicles having attained 14-16mm. To start the process of “prolonged coasting” any earlier or any later, while it would still protect against the development of OHSS, would almost certainly result in compromised egg and embryo quality with ultimate failure of the IVF cycle. Simply stated, the precise timing of initiating the process is critical. Proper implementation of PC will almost always prevent OHSS without seriously compromising egg/embryo quality.

Use of the Birth Control Pill (BCP) to launch IVF-COS.

In natural (unstimulated) as well as in cycles stimulated with fertility drugs, the ability of follicles to properly respond to FSH stimulation is dependent on their having developed FSH-responsive receptors. Pre-antral follicles (PAF) do not have such primed FSH receptors and thus cannot respond properly to FSH stimulation with gonadotropins. The acquisition of FSH receptor responsivity requires that the pre-antral follicles be exposed to FSH, for a number of days (5-7) during which time they attain “FSH-responsivity” and are now known as antral follicles (AF). These AF’s are now able to respond properly to stimulation with administered FSH-gonadotropins. In regular menstrual cycles, the rising FSH output from the pituitary gland insures that PAFs convert tor AF’s. The BCP (as well as prolonged administration of estrogen/progesterone) suppresses FSH. This suppression needs to be countered by artificially causing blood FSH levels to rise in order to cause PAF to AF conversion prior to COS commencing, otherwise pre-antral-to –antral follicle conversion will not take place in an orderly fashion, the duration of ovarian stimulation will be prolonged and both follicle and egg development may be compromised. GnRH agonists cause an immediate surge in release of FSH by the pituitary gland thus causing conversion from PAF to SAF. This is why women who take a BCP to launch a cycle of COS need to have an overlap of the BCP with an agonist. By overlapping the BCP with an agonist for a few days prior to menstruation the early recruited follicles are able to complete their developmental drive to the AF stage and as such, be ready to respond appropriately to optimal ovarian stimulation. Using this approach, the timing of the initiation of the IVF treatment cycle can readily and safely be regulated and controlled by varying the length of time that the woman is on the BCP.

Since optimizing follicular response to COS requires that prior to stimulation with gonadotropins, FSH-induced conversion from PAF to AF’s first be completed and the BCP suppresses FSH, it follows when it comes to women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days prior to menstruation heralding the cycle of CO S. This is where overlapping the BCP with a GnRHa comes in. The agonist causes FSH to be released by the pituitary gland and if overlapped with the BCP for several days and this will (within 2-5 days) facilitate PAF to AF conversion…. in time to start COS with the onset of menstruation. Initiating ovarian stimulation in women taking a BCP, without doing this is suboptimal.

I strongly recommend that you visit www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • The “Biological Clock” and how it should Influence the Selection and Design of Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF.
  • A Rational Basis for selecting Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) protocols in women with Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Diagnosing and Treating Infertility due to Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in Older women and Women who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): A Rational Basis for Selecting a Stimulation Protocol
  • Optimizing Response to Ovarian Stimulation in Women with Compromised Ovarian Response to Ovarian Stimulation: A Personal Approach.
  • Egg Maturation in IVF: How Egg “Immaturity”, “Post-maturity” and “Dysmaturity” Influence IVF Outcome:
  • Commonly Asked Question in IVF: “Why Did so Few of my Eggs Fertilize and, so Many Fail to Reach Blastocyst?”
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Staggered IVF: An Excellent Option When. Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Reduces IVF Success Rate
  • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • IVF outcome: How Does Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Affect Egg/Embryo “Competency” and How Should the Problem be addressed.

 

 

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ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!

INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)

Founded in April 2019, Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) offers online (Skype/FaceTime) consultations to patients from > 40 different countries. All consultations are followed by a detailed written report presenting my personal recommendations for treatment of what often constitute complex Reproductive Issues.

 

If you wish to schedule an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant (Patti Converse) by phone (800-780-7437/702-533-2691), email (concierge@SherIVF.com) or,  enroll online on then home-page of my website (www.SherIVF.com). 

 

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

 

Geoff Sher

 

 

 

 

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Name: Caitlin D

November 29, 2022
Hello, a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with POI by my OB – I had one blood test that showed my FSH at 100, AMH at .003, and Estriadol at 17. I do not know my AFC yet, I am getting that measured tomorrow. I am 34 years old, no kids yet but TTC.… Read More »

Answer:

I doubt it has anything to do with your long term use of BCP. What I can say is that with your FSH of 100 and very low AMH, I am doubtful you will respond to stimulation for IVF. However, if you do, your age would be in your favor and provided a very individualized protocol is used, your egg quality could be OK. Be sure to be tested for Fragile-X because this is more common in young women with DOR.

 

Good luck!

 

Geoff Sher

Name: Gautam J

November 29, 2022
Hi Dr Sher, You’ve written that for women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days to facilitate PAF to AF conversion. You suggest that this be done through GrRH Agonists. But could this not be achieved through very small doses of Gonal-F… Read More »

Answer:

Theoretically this might be achievable through administration of gonadotropins for several days longer while still on BCP but in my pinion would hold no advantage.

Name: Gautam J

November 28, 2022
Dear Dr Sher, You have written that pre-antral follicles require exposure to FSH for 5 – 7 days to be able to develop into Antral Follicles. However, taking Birth Control Pills (BCPs) prior to COS suppresses FSH, and therefore does not allow PAF-AF conversion. This could lead to both follicle and egg development being compromised.… Read More »

Answer:

Thank you for your very thought provoking comments and questions.

Frankly, I cannot disagree that administration of FSH-in small amounts over the last few days of the BCP might not have a similar effect to overlapping with Lupron. It might however add an additional unnecessary variable and expense. Frankly I have never tried this!! It is certainly worth evaluating…Thank you.

As for the concern that the BCP might suppress conversion to AFC’s. That would not likely happen.

Finally, the moment the BCP is stopped (at the point of conversion to gonadotropins, the production of LH resumes somewhat , adding sufficient LH and of course, the addition of Menopur (in small amounts) which contains LH , also addresses this. Besides, remember, the ovarian testosterone is only needed once stimulation begins with gonadotropins.

Name: Elizabeth G

November 27, 2022
Hi Dr Tortoriello, I met you years ago in nyc at your practice. I already had a daughter and wanted in vitro for a son. As my husband and I moved around this time to London we went ahead and took our chances and had another little girl (the love of my life). I am… Read More »

Answer:

Thank you kindly! It would be a pleasure to talk with you. Please call my assistant, Patti Converse (702-533-2691 tomorrow and set up an online consultation with me.

Thank you!

Geoff Sher

Name: Mychelle G

November 25, 2022
I’m 36 (insulin resistant & subclinical hypothyroidism + DOR 4.0 pmol) I have been trying for 4.5 years, I have completed two ivf cycles (Gonal F 450 and Menopur 150) First ivf cycle with Testosterone gel, which resulted in 3 follicles – sadly none fertilized. Second ivf cycle with Estrogen priming- 6 follicles & only… Read More »

Answer:

There are several possible factors :Diminished ovarian reserve: Protocol selection for ovarian stimulation; Male factor; egg quality; implantation dysfunction (possibly related to an autoimmune, immunologic implantation dysfunction.(IID) such as Thyroid autoimmune disease and underlying ndometriosis. Obviously I cannot address all these here. I suggest we talk….SO, I invite you to contact my assistant, Patti Converse (702-533-2691) and set up an online consultation with me to talk..

Whenever a patient fails to achieve a viable pregnancy following embryo transfer (ET), the first question asked is why! Was it simply due to, bad luck?, How likely is the failure to recur in future attempts and what can be done differently, to avoid it happening next time?.

It is an indisputable fact that any IVF procedure is at least as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Thus when it comes to outcome, luck is an undeniable factor. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon the treating physician to carefully consider and address the causes of IVF failure before proceeding to another attempt:

  1. Age: The chance of a woman under 35Y of age having a baby per embryo transfer is about 35-40%. From there it declines progressively to under 5% by the time she reaches her mid-forties. This is largely due to declining chromosomal integrity of the eggs with advancing age…”a wear and tear effect” on eggs that are in the ovaries from birth.
  2. Embryo Quality/”competency (capable of propagating a viable pregnancy)”. As stated, the woman’s age plays a big role in determining egg/embryo quality/”competency”. This having been said, aside from age the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is the next most important factor. It is especially important when it comes to older women, and women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where it becomes essential to be aggressive, and to customize and individualize the ovarian stimulation protocol.

 We used to believe that the uterine environment is more beneficial to embryo development than is the incubator/petri dish and that accordingly, the earlier on in development that embryos are transferred to the uterus, the better. To achieve this goal, we used to select embryos for transfer based upon their day two or microscopic appearance (“grade”).  But we have since learned that the further an embryo has advanced in its development, the more likely it is to be “competent” and that embryos failing to reach the expanded blastocyst stage within 5-6 days of being fertilized are almost invariably “incompetent” and are unworthy of being transferred. Moreover, the introduction into clinical practice about 15y ago, (by Levent Keskintepe PhD and myself) of Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS), which assesses for the presence of all the embryos chromosomes (complete chromosomal karyotyping), provides another tool by which to select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. This methodology has selective benefit when it comes to older women, women with DOR, cases of unexplained repeated IVF failure and women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

  1. The number of the embryos transferred: Most patients believe that the more embryos transferred the greater the chance of success. To some extent this might be true, but if the problem lies with the use of a suboptimal COS protocol, transferring more embryos at a time won’t improve the chance of success. Nor will the transfer of a greater number of embryos solve an underlying embryo implantation dysfunction (anatomical molecular or immunologic).Moreover, the transfer of multiple embryos, should they implant, can and all too often does result in triplets or greater (high order multiples) which increases the incidence of maternal pregnancy-induced complications and of premature delivery with its serious risks to the newborn. It is for this reason that I rarely recommend the transfer of more than 2 embryos at a time and am moving in the direction of advising single embryo transfers …especially when it comes to transferring embryos derived through the fertilization of eggs from young women.

 

  1. Implantation Dysfunction (ID): Implantation dysfunction is a very common (often overlooked) cause of “unexplained” IVF failure. This is especially the case in young ovulating women who have normal ovarian reserve and have fertile partners. Failure to identify, typify, and address such issues is, in my opinion, an unfortunate and relatively common cause of repeated IVF failure in such women. Common sense dictates that if ultrasound guided embryo transfer is performed competently and yet repeated IVF attempts fail to propagate a viable pregnancy, implantation dysfunction must be seriously considered. Yet ID is probably the most overlooked factor. The most common causes of implantation dysfunction are:

 

  1. A“ thin uterine lining”
  2. A uterus with surface lesions in the cavity (polyps, fibroids, scar tissue)
  3. Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID)
  4. Endocrine/molecular endometrial receptivity issues
  5. Ureaplasma Urealyticum (UU) Infection of cervical mucous and the endometrial lining of the uterus, can sometimes present as unexplained early pregnancy loss or unexplained failure following intrauterine insemination or IVF. The infection can also occur in the man, (prostatitis) and thus can go back and forth between partners, with sexual intercourse. This is the reason why both partners must be tested and if positive, should be treated contemporaneously.

Certain causes of infertility are repetitive and thus cannot readily be reversed. Examples include advanced age of the woman; severe male infertility; immunologic infertility associated with alloimmune implantation dysfunction (especially if it is a “complete DQ alpha genetic match between partners plus uterine natural killer cell activation (NKa).

I strongly recommend that you visit www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements for Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
  • “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management 🙁 Case Report)
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; how it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
  • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
  • How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF?

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ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!

INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)

Founded in April 2019, Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) offers online (Skype/FaceTime) consultations to patients from > 40 different countries. All consultations are followed by a detailed written report presenting my personal recommendations for treatment of what often constitute complex Reproductive Issues.

 

If you wish to schedule an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant (Patti Converse) by phone (800-780-7437/702-533-2691), email (concierge@SherIVF.com) or,  enroll online on then home-page of my website (www.SherIVF.com). 

 

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

 

Geoff Sher

 

 

 

 

 

 

Name: Sophie W

November 23, 2022
I have had 5 DE failed cycles. I’m Kir-Aa, I have Hashimotos, and I’ve been on Lovenox, Prednisone and Aspirin for the last 3 rounds and still failed despite high quality embryos. The donor was HLA. Now we can start again with same or different donor and I was told to try intralipids infusion. Are… Read More »

Answer:

WE really should talk! To me it seams that there is an underlying implantation dysfunction that is likely immunologic in origin. If I am correct then respectfully, in my opinion,  the  treatment to address the immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) was not optimal/adequate.I invite you to contact my assistant, Patti converse (702-533-2691) and set up an online consultation with me.

 

Implantation dysfunction is unfortunately often overlooked as an important cause of IVF failure. This is especially relevant in cases of unexplained IVF failure, recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), and in women with underlying endo-uterine surface lesions, thickness of the uterine lining (endometrium) and /or immunologic factors.

IVF success rates have been improving over the last decade. The average live birth rate per embryo transfer in the U.S.A for women under 40y using their own eggs is currently better than 1:3 women. However, there is still a wide variation from program to program for IVF live birth rates, ranging from 20% to near 50%. Based upon these statistics, most women undergoing IVF in the United States require two or more attempts to have a baby. IVF practitioners in the United States commonly attribute the wide dichotomy in IVF success rates to variability in expertise of the various embryology laboratories. This is far from accurate. In fact, other factors such as wide variations in patient selection and the failure to develop individualized protocols for ovarian stimulation or to address those infectious, anatomical, and immunologic factors that influence embryo implantation are at least equally important.

About 80% of IVF failures are due to “embryo incompetency” that is largely due to aneuploidy      usually related to advancing age of the woman and is further influenced by other factors such as the protocol selected for ovarian stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), and severe male factor infertility. However, in about 20% of dysfunctional cases embryo implantation is the cause of failure.

This section will focus on implantation dysfunction and IVF failure due to:

ANATOMICAL ENDO-UTERINE SURFACE LESIONS

            It has long been suspected that anatomical defects of the uterus might result in infertility. While the presence of uterine fibroids, in general, are unlikely to cause infertility, an association between their presence and infertility has been observed in cases where the myomas distort the uterine cavity or protrude through the endometrial lining.  Even small fibroids that lie immediately under the endometrium (submucous fibroids) and protrude into the uterine cavity have the potential to lower embryo implantation.  Multiple fibroids in the uterine wall (intramural fibroids) that encroach upon the uterine cavity can sometimes so compromise blood flow that estrogen delivery is impaired, and the endometrium is unable to thicken properly. This can usually be diagnosed by ultrasound examination during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle.  It is likely that any surface lesion in the uterine cavity, whether submucous fibroids, intrauterine adhesions a small endometrial or a placental polyp, has the potential to interfere with implantation by producing a local inflammatory response, not too dissimilar in nature from that which is caused by an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD).       

            Clearly, since even small uterine lesions have the potential to adversely affect implantation, the high cost (financial, physical, and emotional) associated with IVF and related procedures, justifies the routine performance of diagnostic procedures such as an HSG, hysterosonogram (fluid ultrasound examination), or hysteroscopy prior to initiating IVF.  Identifiable uterine lesions that have the potential of impairing implantation usually require surgical intervention.  In most cases, dilatation and curettage (D & C) or hysteroscopic resection will suffice. Some cases might require the performance of a laparotomy.  Such intervention will often result in subsequent improvement of the endometrial response.      

Sonohysterography [Fluid ultrasonography (FUS)]: Fluid ultrasonography is a procedure whereby a sterile solution of saline is injected via a catheter through the cervix and into the uterine cavity. The fluid-distended cavity is examined by vaginal ultrasound for any irregularities that might point to surface lesions such as polyps, fibroid tumors, scarring, or a uterine septum. If performed by an expert, a FUS is highly effective in recognizing even the smallest lesion and can replace hysteroscopy under such circumstances. FUS is less expensive, less traumatic, and equally as effective as hysteroscopy. The only disadvantage lies in the fact that if a lesion is detected, it may require the subsequent performance of hysteroscopy to treat the problem anyway.

Hysteroscopy: Diagnostic hysteroscopy is an office procedure that is performed under intravenous sedation, general anesthesia, or paracervical block with minimal discomfort to the patient. This procedure involves the insertion of a thin, lighted, telescope like instrument known as a hysteroscope through the vagina and cervix into the uterus to fully examine the uterine cavity. The uterus is first distended with normal saline, which is passed through a sleeve adjacent to the hysteroscope. As is the case with FUS, diagnostic hysteroscopy facilitates examination of the inside of the uterus under direct vision for defects that might interfere with implantation. We have observed that approximately one in eight candidates for IVF have lesions that require attention prior to undergoing IVF in order to optimize the chances of a successful outcome. We strongly recommend that all patients undergo therapeutic surgery (usually by hysteroscopy) to correct the pathology prior to IVF.  Depending on the severity and nature of the pathology, therapeutic hysteroscopy may require general anesthesia and, in such cases, should be performed in an outpatient surgical facility or conventional operating room where facilities are available for laparotomy, a procedure in which an incision is made in the abdomen to expose the abdominal contents for diagnosis, or for surgery should this be required.       

THICKNESS OF THE UTERINE LINING (ENDOMETRIUM):

As far back as in 1989 we first reported on the finding that ultrasound assessment of the late proliferative phase endometrium can identify those candidates who are least likely to conceive. We noted that the ideal thickness of the endometrium at the time of ovulation or egg retrieval is >8 mm and that thinner linings are associated with decreased implantation rates.

More than 30 years ago we first showed that in normal and “stimulated” cycles, pre-ovulatory endometrial thickness and ultrasound appearance is predictive of embryo implantation (pregnancy) potential following ET. With conventional IVF and with FET, endometrial lining at the time of the “trigger shot” or with the initiation of progesterone needs to preferably be at least 8 mm in sagittal thickness with a triple line (trilaminar) appearance. Anything less than an 8mm endometrial thickness       is associated with a reduction in live birth rate per ET. An 8-9mm thickness represents a transitional measurement…a “gray zone”.  Hitherto, attempts to augment endometrial growth in women with poor endometrial linings by bolstering circulating estrogen blood levels (through the administration of increased doses of fertility drugs, aspirin administration and by supplementary estrogen therapy) yielded disappointing results.

            A “poor” uterine lining is usually the result of the innermost layer of endometrium (the basal or germinal endometrium from which endometrium grows) not being able to respond to estrogen by propagating an outer, “functional” layer thick enough to support optimal embryo implantation and development of a healthy placenta (placentation). The “functional” layer ultimately comprises 2/3 of the full endometrial thickness and is the layer that sheds with menstruation if no pregnancy occurs.

The main causes of a “poor” uterine lining are:

  • Damage to the basal endometrium because of:
  • Inflammation of the endometrium (endometritis) most commonly resulting from infected products left over following abortion, miscarriage, or birth
  • Surgical trauma due to traumatic uterine scraping, (i.e. due to an over-aggressive D & C)
  • Insensitivity of the basal endometrium to estrogen due to:
  • Prolonged, over-use/misuse of clomiphene citrate
  • Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES). This is a drug that was given to pregnant women in the 1960’s to help prevent miscarriage
  • Over-exposure of the uterine lining to ovarian male hormones (mainly testosterone): Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve (poor responders) and women with polycystic ovarian syndrome -PCOS tend to have raised LH biological activity. This causes the connective tissue in the ovary (stroma/theca) to overproduce testosterone. The effect may be further exaggerated when certain methods for ovarian stimulation such as “flare” protocols and high dosages of Menopur are used in such cases.
  • Reduced blood flow to the basal endometrium: Examples include.
  • Multiple uterine fibroids – especially when these are present under the endometrium (submucosal)
  • Uterine adenomyosis (excessive, abnormal invasion of the uterine muscle by endometrial glands).

Vaginal Viagra: About 35 years ago, after reporting on the benefit of administering vaginal Sildenafil (Viagra) to women who had implantation dysfunction due to thin endometrial linings we announced the birth of the world’s first “Viagra baby.”  Viagra administered vaginally, but not orally, in affected women improves uterine blood flow causing more estrogen to be delivered to the basal endometrium and increasing the endometrial thickening.  Following vaginal administration, Viagra is rapidly absorbed and quickly reaches the uterine blood system in high concentrations. Thereupon it dilutes out as it is absorbed into the systemic circulation. This probably explains why treatment is virtually devoid of systemic side effects.  It is important to recognize that Viagra will NOT be effective in improving endometrial thickness in all cases. In fact, about one third of women treated fail to show any improvement. This is because in certain cases of thin uterine linings, the basal endometrium will have been permanently damaged and left unresponsive to estrogen. This happens in cases of severe endometrial damage due mainly to post-pregnancy endometritis (inflammation), chronic granulomatous inflammation due to uterine tuberculosis (hardly ever seen in the United States) and following extensive surgical injury to the basal endometrium (as sometimes occurs following over-zealous D&C’s).

  • Immunologic factors: These also play a role in IVF failure (see “Immunologic factors and Implantation” …see below.

IMMUNOLOGIC IMPLANTATION DYSFUNCTION (IID)

            Currently, with few exceptions, practitioners of assisted reproduction tend to attribute “unexplained and/or repeated” IVF failure(s), almost exclusively to poor embryo quality, advocating adjusted protocols for ovarian stimulation and/or gamete and embryo preparation as a potential remedy. The idea, having failed IVF, that all it takes to ultimately succeed is to keep trying the same recipe is over-simplistic.

            The implantation process begins six or seven days after fertilization of the egg. At this time, specialized embryonic cells (i.e., trophoblasts), that later become the placenta begin growing into the uterine lining. When the trophoblast and the uterine lining meet, they, along with immune cells in the lining, become involved in a “cross talk” through mutual exchange of hormone-like substances called cytokines. Because of this complex immunologic interplay, the uterus can foster the embryo’s successful growth. Thus, from the earliest stage, the trophoblast establishes the very foundation for the nutritional, hormonal and respiratory interchange between mother and baby.  In this manner, the interactive process of implantation is not only central to survival in early pregnancy but also to the quality of life after birth.

There is an ever growing realization, recognition, and acceptance of the fact that uterine immunologic dysfunction can lead to immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) with “unexplained” infertility, IVF failure, and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

DIAGNOSIS 

Because immunologic problems may lead to implantation failure, it is important to properly evaluate women with risk factors such as:

  • Unexplained or recurrent IVF failures
  • Unexplained infertility or a family history of autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and hypothyroidism).
  • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)
  • Endometriosis
  • A personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, e.g., Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease) etc.

            Considering its importance, it is not surprising that the failure of a properly functioning immunologic interaction during implantation has been implicated as a cause of recurrent miscarriage, late pregnancy fetal loss, IVF failure and infertility. A partial list of immunologic factors that may be involved in these situations includes:

  • Antiphospholipid antibodies (APA)
  • Antithyroid antibodies (ATA/AMA)
  • Activated natural killer cells (NKa)

ACTIVATED NATURAL KILLER CELLS (NKa):

Following ovulation and during early pregnancy, NK cells and T-cells comprise more than 80% of the lymphocyte-immune cells that frequent the uterine lining. These lymphocytes (white blood cells) journey from the bone marrow to the uterus and under hormonal regulation, proliferate there. After exposure to progesterone (due to induced /spontaneous exogenous administration), they begin to produce TH-1 and TH-2 cytokines. TH-2 cytokines are humoral in nature and induce the trophoblast (“root system of the embryo”) to permeate the uterine lining while TH-I cytokines induce a process referred to as apoptosis (cell suicide) thereby confining placental development to the inner part of the uterus. Optimal placental development (placentation) mandates that there be a balance between TH1 and TH-2 cytokines. Most of the cytokine production originates from NK cells (rather than from cytotoxic T-cells/Lymphocytes (CTL)). Excessive production/release of TH-1 cytokines, is toxic to the trophoblast and to endometrial cells, leading to programmed death/suicide (apoptosis) and subsequently to IID.

Functional NK cells reach a maximal concentration in the endometrium by about t day 6-7 days after exposure to progesterone …. This timing corresponds with when the embryo implants into the uterine lining (endometrium).

It is important to bear in mind that measurement of the concentration of blood NK cells has little or no relevance when it comes to assessing NK cell activation (NKa). Rather, it is the NK cell activation that matters. In fact, there are certain conditions (such as with endometriosis) where the NK cell blood concentration is below normal, but NK cell activation is markedly increased.

There are several methods by which NK cell activation (cytotoxicity) can be assessed in the laboratory. Methods such as immunohistochemical assessment of uterine NK cells and/or through measurement of uterine or blood TH-1 cytokines. However, the K-562 target cell blood test still remains the gold standard. With this test, NK cells, isolated from the woman’s blood using Flow Cytometry are incubated in the presence of specific “target cells”. The percentage (%) of “target cells” killed is then quantified. More than 12% killing suggests a level of NK cell activation that usually requires treatment.

Currently, there are less than a half dozen Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the U.S.A that are capable of performing the K-562 target cell test reliably.

There exists a pervasive but blatant misconception on the part of many, that the addition of IL or IVIg to a concentration of NK cells could have an immediate down-regulatory effect on NK cell activity. Neither IVIg nor IL is capable of significantly suppressing already activated “functional NK cells”. They are believed to work through “regulating” NK cell progenitors which only thereupon will start to propagate down-regulated NK cells. Thus, testing for a therapeutic effect would require that the IL/IVIg infusion be done about 14 days prior to ovulation or progesterone administration…  in order to allow for a sufficient number of normal (non-activated) “functional” NK cell” to be present at the implantation site when the embryos are transferred.

Failure to recognize this reality has, in our opinion, established an erroneous demand by practicing IVF doctors, that Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories report on NK cell activity before and again, immediately following laboratory exposure to IVIg and/or IL in different concentrations. Allegedly, this is to allow the treating physician to report back to their patient(s) on whether an IL or IVIG infusion will be effective in downregulating their Nka.  But, since already activated NK cells (NKa) cannot be deactivated in the laboratory, effective NKa down-regulation can only be adequately accomplished through deactivation of NK cell “progenitors /parental” NK cells in order to allow them thereupon, to s propagate normal “functional” NK cells and his takes about 10-14 days, such practice would be of little clinical benefit. This is because even if blood were to be drawn 10 -14 days after IL/IVIg treatment it would require at least an additional 10 -14days to receive results from the laboratory, by which time it would be far too late to be of practical advantage.

ANTIPHOSPHOLIPID ANTIBODIES:

 Many women who experience “unexplained” IVF failure, women with RPL, those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and dermatomyositis (etc.)  as well as women who have endometriosis (“silent” or overt) test positive for APAs. More than 30 years ago, we were the first to propose that women who test positive for APA’s be treated with a mini-dose heparin to improve IVF implantation and thus birth rates. This approach was based upon research that suggested that heparin repels APAs from the surface of the trophoblast (the embryo’s “root system) thereby reducing its ant-implantation effects.  We subsequently demonstrated that such therapy only improved IVF outcome in women whose APAs were directed against two specific IgG and/or IgM phospholipids [i.e., phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS)].  More recently low dosage heparin therapy has been supplanted using longer acting low molecular weight heparinoids such as Lovenox and Clexane.   It is very possible that APAs alone do not cause IID but that their presence might help to identify a population at risk due to concomitant activation of uterine natural killer cells (Nka) which through excessive TH-1 cytokine production causes in IID: This is supported by the following observations:

  • The presence of female APAs in cases of male factor cases appears to bear no relationship to IID.
  • Only APA positive women who also test positive for abnormal NK activity appear to benefit from selective immunotherapy with intralipid/IVIg/ steroids.
  • Most APA positive women who have increased NK cell activity also harbor IgG or IgM phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS) antibodies.

ANTITHYROID ANTIBODIES: (ATA).

 A clear relationship has been established between ATA and reproductive failure (especially recurrent miscarriage and infertility).

Between 2% and 5% of women of the childbearing age have reduced thyroid hormone activity (hypothyroidism). Women with hypothyroidism often manifest with reproductive failure i.e., infertility, unexplained (often repeated) IVF failure, or recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL). The condition is 5-10 times more common in women than in men. In most cases hypothyroidism is caused by damage to the thyroid gland resulting from of thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s disease) caused by damage done to the thyroid gland by antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal auto-antibodies. 

The increased prevalence of hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) in women is likely the result of a combination of genetic factors, estrogen-related effects, and chromosome X abnormalities.  This having been said, there is significantly increased incidence of thyroid antibodies in non-pregnant women with a history of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss and thyroid antibodies can be present asymptomatically in women without them manifesting with overt clinical or endocrinologic evidence of thyroid disease. In addition, these antibodies may persist in women who have suffered from hyper- or hypothyroidism even after normalization of their thyroid function by appropriate pharmacological treatment. The manifestations of reproductive dysfunction thus seem to be linked more to the presence of thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) than to clinical existence of hypothyroidism and treatment of the latter does not routinely result in a subsequent improvement in reproductive performance.

It follows, that if antithyroid autoantibodies are associated with reproductive dysfunction they may serve as useful markers for predicting poor outcome in patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies.

Some years back, I reported on the fact that 47% of women who harbor thyroid autoantibodies, regardless of the absence or presence of clinical hypothyroidism, have activated uterine natural killer cells (NKa) cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and that such women often present with reproductive dysfunction. We demonstrated that appropriate immunotherapy with IVIG or intralipid (IL) and steroids, subsequently often results in a significant improvement in reproductive performance in such cases.

The fact that almost 50% of women who harbor antithyroid antibodies do not have activated CTL/NK cells suggests that it is NOT the antithyroid antibodies themselves that cause reproductive dysfunction. The activation of CTL and NK cells that occurs in half of the cases with TAI is probably an epiphenomenon with the associated reproductive dysfunction being due to CTL/NK cell activation that damages the early “root system” (trophoblast) of the implanting embryo. We have shown that treatment of those women who have thyroid antibodies + NKa/CTL using IL/steroids, improves subsequent reproductive performance while women with thyroid antibodies who do not harbor NKa/CTL do not require or benefit from such treatment

TEATMENT OF IID:

The mainstay of treatment involves the selective use of:

  • Intralipid (IL) infusion
  • IVIg therapy
  • Corticosteroids (Prednisone/dexamethasone)
  • Heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane)

Intralipid (IL) Therapy:  IL is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

Intralipid is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

            Can laboratory testing be used to assess for an immediate effect of IL on Nka suppression?  Since the downregulation of NKa through IL (or IVIg) therapy can take several weeks to become measurable, it follows that there is really no benefit in trying to assess the potential efficacy of such treatment by retesting NKa in the laboratory after adding IL (or IVIg) to the cells being tested.

IVIg Therapy:  Until about a decade ago, the only effective and available way (in the US) to down-regulate activated NK cells was through the intravenous administration of a blood product known as immunoglobulin-G (IVIg). The fear (albeit unfounded) that the administration of this product might lead to the transmission of viral infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, plus the high cost of IVIG along with the fact that significant side effects occurred about 20% of the time, led to bad press and bad publicity for the entire field of reproductive immunology. It was easier for RE’s to simply say “I don’t believe IVIg works” and thereby avoid risk and bad publicity. But the thousands of women who had babies because of NK cell activity being downregulated through its use, attests to IVIg’s efficacy. But those of us who felt morally obligated to many desperate patients who would not conceive without receiving IVIg were facing an uphill battle. The bad press caused by fear mongering took its toll and spawned a malicious controversy. It was only through the introduction of IL less (about 15-20 years ago ), that the tide began to turn in favor of those patients who required low cost, safe and effective immunotherapy to resolve their IID.

 Corticosteroid Therapy (e.g., Prednisone, and Dexamethasone): Corticosteroid therapy has become a mainstay in the treatment of most women undergoing IVF. It is believed by most to enhance implantation due to an overall immunomodulatory effect. Corticosteroids reduce TH-1 cytokine production by CTL. When given in combination with IL or IVIG they augment the implantation process. The prednisone or dexamethasone therapy must commence (along with IL/IVIg) 10-14 days prior to egg retrieval and continue until pregnancy is discounted or until the 10th week of pregnancy.

 Heparinoid Therapy: There is compelling evidence that the subcutaneous administration of low molecular heparin (Clexane, Lovenox) once daily, (starting with the onset of ovarian stimulation) can improve IVF birthrate in women who test positive for APAs and might prevent later pregnancy loss when used to treat certain thrombophilias (e.g., homozygous MTHFR mutation)

What About Baby Aspirin? In our opinion, aspirin has little (if any) value when it comes to IID, and besides, it could even reduce the chance of success. The reason for this is that aspirin thins the blood and increases the potential to bleed. This effect can last for up to a week and could complicate an egg retrieval procedure or result in “concealed” intrauterine bleeding at the time of embryo transfer, thereby potentially compromising IVF success.

TH-1 Cytokine Blockers (Enbrel, Humira): TH-1 cytokine blockers, (Enbrel and Humira) are in our opinion relatively ineffective in the IVF setting. There has to date been no convincing data to support their use. However, these blockers could have a role in the treatment of a threatened miscarriage thought to be due to CTL/NK activation, but not for IVF. The reason is that the very initial phase of implantation requires a cellular response involving TH-1 cytokines. To block them completely (rather than simply restore a TH-1:TH-2 balance as occurs with IL therapy) so very early on could compromise rather than benefit implantation.

Leukocyte Immunization Therapy (LIT): The subcutaneous injection of the male partner’s lymphocytes to the mother is thought to enhance the ability for the mother’s decidua (uterus) to recognize the DQ alpha matching embryo as “self” or “friend” and thereby avert its rejection. LIT has been shown to up-regulate Treg cells and thus down-regulate NK cell activation thereby improving decidual TH-1:TH-2 balance. Thus, there could be a therapeutic benefit from such therapy. However, the same benefit can be achieved through the use of IL plus corticosteroids. Besides, IL is much less expensive, and the use of LIT is prohibited by law in the U.S.A.

There are two categories of immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to NK cell activation (NKa).

Autoimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, the woman will often have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus Erythematosus, and thyroid autoimmune activity (e.g., Hashimoto’s disease) etc. Autoimmune as well as in about one third of cases of endometriosis, regardless of severity.  Autoimmune sometimes also occurs in the absence of a personal or family history of autoimmune disease.

When it comes to treating  NKa in  IVF cases complicated by autoimmune implantation dysfunction,  the combination of daily oral dexamethasone commencing with the onset of ovarian stimulation and continuing until the 10th week of pregnancy, combined with an initial infusion of IL (100ml, 20% Il dissolved in 500cc of saline solution, 10-14  days prior to PGT-normal embryo transfer and repeated once more (only), as  soon as the blood pregnancy test is positive), the anticipated chance of a viable pregnancy occurring within 2 completed IVF attempts (including fresh + frozen ET’s)  in women under 39Y (who have normal ovarian reserve)  is approximately  65%.

Alloimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, NK cell activation results from uterine exposure to an embryo derived through fertilization by a spermatozoon that shares certain genotypic (HLA/DQ alpha) similarities with that of the embryo recipient.

Partial DQ alpha/HLA match:  Couples who upon genotyping are shown to share only one DQ alpha/HLA gene are labeled as having a “partial match”. The detection of a “partial match” in association with NKa puts the couple at a considerable disadvantage with regard to IVF outcome. It should be emphasized however, that in the absence of associated Nka, DQ alpha/HLA matching whether “partial” or “total (see below) will NOT cause an IID. Since we presently have no way of determining which embryo carries a matching paternal DQ alpha gene, it follows that each embryo transferred will have about half the chance of propagating a viable pregnancy. Treatment of a partial DQ alpha/HLA match (+ Nka) involves the same IL, infusion as for autoimmune-Nka with one important caveat, namely that here we prescribe oral prednisone as adjunct therapy (rather than dexamethasone) and the IL infusion is repeated every 2-4 weeks following the diagnosis of pregnancy and continued until the 24th week of gestation. Additionally, (as alluded to elsewhere) in such cases we transfer a single (1) embryo at a time. This is because, the likelihood is that one out of two embryos will “match” and we are fearful that if we transfer >1 embryo, and one transferred embryos “matches” it could cause further activation of uterine NK cells and so prejudice the implantation of all transferred embryos. Here it should be emphasized that if associated with Nka, a matching embryo will still be at risk of rejection even in the presence of Intralipid (or IVIg) therapy.

Total (complete) DQ alpha Match:   Here the husband’s DQ alpha genotype matches both of that of his partner’s. While this occurs very infrequently, a total alloimmune (DQ alpha) match with accompanying Nka, means that the chance of a viable pregnancy resulting in a live birth at term, is unfortunately greatly diminished.  Several instances in our experience have required the use of a gestational surrogate.

It is indeed unfortunate that so many patients are being denied the ability to go from “infertility to family” simply because (for whatever reason) so many reproductive specialists refuse to embrace the role of immunologic factors in the genesis of intractable reproductive dysfunction. Hopefully this will change, and the sooner the better.

______________________________________________________________________

I urge you to  visit my website at  www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • A Fresh Look at the Indications for IVF
  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • IVF and the use of Supplementary Human Growth Hormone (HGH) : Is it Worth Trying and who needs it?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • IVF: Approach to Selecting the Best Embryos for Transfer to the Uterus.
  • Fresh versus Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET) Enhance IVF Outcome
  • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
  • Genetically Testing Embryos for IVF
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA): Is There an actual “There, There”?
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • Diagnosing and Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • A Thin Uterine Lining: Vaginal Viagra is Often the Answer (update)
  • Cervical Ureaplasma Urealyticum Infection: How can it Affect IUI/IVF Outcome?
  • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF
  • The Basic Infertility Work-Up
  • Defining and Addressing an Abnormal Luteal Phase
  • Male Factor Infertility
  • Routine Fertilization by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An Argument in Favor
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Antisperm Antibodies, Infertility and the Role of IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
  • Endometriosis and Infertily
  • Endometriosis and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) and IVF
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: Why IVF Rather than IUI or Surgery Should be the Treatment of Choice.
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: The Influence of Age and Severity on Treatment Options
  • Early -Endometriosis-related Infertility: Ovulation Induction (with or without Intrauterine Insemination) and Reproductive Surgery  Versus IVF
  • Deciding Between Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s & Con’s!IUI-Reflecting upon its Use and Misuse: Time for a Serious “Reality Check
  • Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its ue
  • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!

Name: Yasmeen L

November 23, 2022
I’m 32 & have severe PCOS. I have a history of uterine cancer in which I was very fortunate to have caught it at stage 1. 8 months of immunotherapy using an IUD & now cancer free for 2 years. Since then I have had 2 failed ICSI assisted FETs that have been genetically tested.… Read More »

Answer:

I think we should talk!

 

You clearly have an implantation dysfunction which needs to be identified, quantified and addressed.

I invite you to contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me.

Implantation dysfunction is unfortunately often overlooked as an important cause of IVF failure. This is especially relevant in cases of unexplained IVF failure, recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), and in women with underlying endo-uterine surface lesions, thickness of the uterine lining (endometrium) and /or immunologic factors.

IVF success rates have been improving over the last decade. The average live birth rate per embryo transfer in the U.S.A for women under 40y using their own eggs is currently better than 1:3 women. However, there is still a wide variation from program to program for IVF live birth rates, ranging from 20% to near 50%. Based upon these statistics, most women undergoing IVF in the United States require two or more attempts to have a baby. IVF practitioners in the United States commonly attribute the wide dichotomy in IVF success rates to variability in expertise of the various embryology laboratories. This is far from accurate. In fact, other factors such as wide variations in patient selection and the failure to develop individualized protocols for ovarian stimulation or to address those infectious, anatomical, and immunologic factors that influence embryo implantation are at least equally important.

About 80% of IVF failures are due to “embryo incompetency” that is largely due to aneuploidy      usually related to advancing age of the woman and is further influenced by other factors such as the protocol selected for ovarian stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), and severe male factor infertility. However, in about 20% of dysfunctional cases embryo implantation is the cause of failure.

This section will focus on implantation dysfunction and IVF failure due to:

ANATOMICAL ENDO-UTERINE SURFACE LESIONS

            It has long been suspected that anatomical defects of the uterus might result in infertility. While the presence of uterine fibroids, in general, are unlikely to cause infertility, an association between their presence and infertility has been observed in cases where the myomas distort the uterine cavity or protrude through the endometrial lining.  Even small fibroids that lie immediately under the endometrium (submucous fibroids) and protrude into the uterine cavity have the potential to lower embryo implantation.  Multiple fibroids in the uterine wall (intramural fibroids) that encroach upon the uterine cavity can sometimes so compromise blood flow that estrogen delivery is impaired, and the endometrium is unable to thicken properly. This can usually be diagnosed by ultrasound examination during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle.  It is likely that any surface lesion in the uterine cavity, whether submucous fibroids, intrauterine adhesions a small endometrial or a placental polyp, has the potential to interfere with implantation by producing a local inflammatory response, not too dissimilar in nature from that which is caused by an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD).       

            Clearly, since even small uterine lesions have the potential to adversely affect implantation, the high cost (financial, physical, and emotional) associated with IVF and related procedures, justifies the routine performance of diagnostic procedures such as an HSG, hysterosonogram (fluid ultrasound examination), or hysteroscopy prior to initiating IVF.  Identifiable uterine lesions that have the potential of impairing implantation usually require surgical intervention.  In most cases, dilatation and curettage (D & C) or hysteroscopic resection will suffice. Some cases might require the performance of a laparotomy.  Such intervention will often result in subsequent improvement of the endometrial response.      

Sonohysterography [Fluid ultrasonography (FUS)]: Fluid ultrasonography is a procedure whereby a sterile solution of saline is injected via a catheter through the cervix and into the uterine cavity. The fluid-distended cavity is examined by vaginal ultrasound for any irregularities that might point to surface lesions such as polyps, fibroid tumors, scarring, or a uterine septum. If performed by an expert, a FUS is highly effective in recognizing even the smallest lesion and can replace hysteroscopy under such circumstances. FUS is less expensive, less traumatic, and equally as effective as hysteroscopy. The only disadvantage lies in the fact that if a lesion is detected, it may require the subsequent performance of hysteroscopy to treat the problem anyway.

Hysteroscopy: Diagnostic hysteroscopy is an office procedure that is performed under intravenous sedation, general anesthesia, or paracervical block with minimal discomfort to the patient. This procedure involves the insertion of a thin, lighted, telescope like instrument known as a hysteroscope through the vagina and cervix into the uterus to fully examine the uterine cavity. The uterus is first distended with normal saline, which is passed through a sleeve adjacent to the hysteroscope. As is the case with FUS, diagnostic hysteroscopy facilitates examination of the inside of the uterus under direct vision for defects that might interfere with implantation. We have observed that approximately one in eight candidates for IVF have lesions that require attention prior to undergoing IVF in order to optimize the chances of a successful outcome. We strongly recommend that all patients undergo therapeutic surgery (usually by hysteroscopy) to correct the pathology prior to IVF.  Depending on the severity and nature of the pathology, therapeutic hysteroscopy may require general anesthesia and, in such cases, should be performed in an outpatient surgical facility or conventional operating room where facilities are available for laparotomy, a procedure in which an incision is made in the abdomen to expose the abdominal contents for diagnosis, or for surgery should this be required.       

THICKNESS OF THE UTERINE LINING (ENDOMETRIUM):

As far back as in 1989 we first reported on the finding that ultrasound assessment of the late proliferative phase endometrium can identify those candidates who are least likely to conceive. We noted that the ideal thickness of the endometrium at the time of ovulation or egg retrieval is >8 mm and that thinner linings are associated with decreased implantation rates.

More than 30 years ago we first showed that in normal and “stimulated” cycles, pre-ovulatory endometrial thickness and ultrasound appearance is predictive of embryo implantation (pregnancy) potential following ET. With conventional IVF and with FET, endometrial lining at the time of the “trigger shot” or with the initiation of progesterone needs to preferably be at least 8 mm in sagittal thickness with a triple line (trilaminar) appearance. Anything less than an 8mm endometrial thickness       is associated with a reduction in live birth rate per ET. An 8-9mm thickness represents a transitional measurement…a “gray zone”.  Hitherto, attempts to augment endometrial growth in women with poor endometrial linings by bolstering circulating estrogen blood levels (through the administration of increased doses of fertility drugs, aspirin administration and by supplementary estrogen therapy) yielded disappointing results.

            A “poor” uterine lining is usually the result of the innermost layer of endometrium (the basal or germinal endometrium from which endometrium grows) not being able to respond to estrogen by propagating an outer, “functional” layer thick enough to support optimal embryo implantation and development of a healthy placenta (placentation). The “functional” layer ultimately comprises 2/3 of the full endometrial thickness and is the layer that sheds with menstruation if no pregnancy occurs.

The main causes of a “poor” uterine lining are:

  • Damage to the basal endometrium because of:
  • Inflammation of the endometrium (endometritis) most commonly resulting from infected products left over following abortion, miscarriage, or birth
  • Surgical trauma due to traumatic uterine scraping, (i.e. due to an over-aggressive D & C)
  • Insensitivity of the basal endometrium to estrogen due to:
  • Prolonged, over-use/misuse of clomiphene citrate
  • Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES). This is a drug that was given to pregnant women in the 1960’s to help prevent miscarriage
  • Over-exposure of the uterine lining to ovarian male hormones (mainly testosterone): Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve (poor responders) and women with polycystic ovarian syndrome -PCOS tend to have raised LH biological activity. This causes the connective tissue in the ovary (stroma/theca) to overproduce testosterone. The effect may be further exaggerated when certain methods for ovarian stimulation such as “flare” protocols and high dosages of Menopur are used in such cases.
  • Reduced blood flow to the basal endometrium: Examples include.
  • Multiple uterine fibroids – especially when these are present under the endometrium (submucosal)
  • Uterine adenomyosis (excessive, abnormal invasion of the uterine muscle by endometrial glands).

Vaginal Viagra: About 35 years ago, after reporting on the benefit of administering vaginal Sildenafil (Viagra) to women who had implantation dysfunction due to thin endometrial linings we announced the birth of the world’s first “Viagra baby.”  Viagra administered vaginally, but not orally, in affected women improves uterine blood flow causing more estrogen to be delivered to the basal endometrium and increasing the endometrial thickening.  Following vaginal administration, Viagra is rapidly absorbed and quickly reaches the uterine blood system in high concentrations. Thereupon it dilutes out as it is absorbed into the systemic circulation. This probably explains why treatment is virtually devoid of systemic side effects.  It is important to recognize that Viagra will NOT be effective in improving endometrial thickness in all cases. In fact, about one third of women treated fail to show any improvement. This is because in certain cases of thin uterine linings, the basal endometrium will have been permanently damaged and left unresponsive to estrogen. This happens in cases of severe endometrial damage due mainly to post-pregnancy endometritis (inflammation), chronic granulomatous inflammation due to uterine tuberculosis (hardly ever seen in the United States) and following extensive surgical injury to the basal endometrium (as sometimes occurs following over-zealous D&C’s).

  • Immunologic factors: These also play a role in IVF failure (see “Immunologic factors and Implantation” …see below.

IMMUNOLOGIC IMPLANTATION DYSFUNCTION (IID)

            Currently, with few exceptions, practitioners of assisted reproduction tend to attribute “unexplained and/or repeated” IVF failure(s), almost exclusively to poor embryo quality, advocating adjusted protocols for ovarian stimulation and/or gamete and embryo preparation as a potential remedy. The idea, having failed IVF, that all it takes to ultimately succeed is to keep trying the same recipe is over-simplistic.

            The implantation process begins six or seven days after fertilization of the egg. At this time, specialized embryonic cells (i.e., trophoblasts), that later become the placenta begin growing into the uterine lining. When the trophoblast and the uterine lining meet, they, along with immune cells in the lining, become involved in a “cross talk” through mutual exchange of hormone-like substances called cytokines. Because of this complex immunologic interplay, the uterus can foster the embryo’s successful growth. Thus, from the earliest stage, the trophoblast establishes the very foundation for the nutritional, hormonal and respiratory interchange between mother and baby.  In this manner, the interactive process of implantation is not only central to survival in early pregnancy but also to the quality of life after birth.

There is an ever growing realization, recognition, and acceptance of the fact that uterine immunologic dysfunction can lead to immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) with “unexplained” infertility, IVF failure, and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

DIAGNOSIS 

Because immunologic problems may lead to implantation failure, it is important to properly evaluate women with risk factors such as:

  • Unexplained or recurrent IVF failures
  • Unexplained infertility or a family history of autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and hypothyroidism).
  • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)
  • Endometriosis
  • A personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, e.g., Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease) etc.

            Considering its importance, it is not surprising that the failure of a properly functioning immunologic interaction during implantation has been implicated as a cause of recurrent miscarriage, late pregnancy fetal loss, IVF failure and infertility. A partial list of immunologic factors that may be involved in these situations includes:

  • Antiphospholipid antibodies (APA)
  • Antithyroid antibodies (ATA/AMA)
  • Activated natural killer cells (NKa)

ACTIVATED NATURAL KILLER CELLS (NKa):

Following ovulation and during early pregnancy, NK cells and T-cells comprise more than 80% of the lymphocyte-immune cells that frequent the uterine lining. These lymphocytes (white blood cells) journey from the bone marrow to the uterus and under hormonal regulation, proliferate there. After exposure to progesterone (due to induced /spontaneous exogenous administration), they begin to produce TH-1 and TH-2 cytokines. TH-2 cytokines are humoral in nature and induce the trophoblast (“root system of the embryo”) to permeate the uterine lining while TH-I cytokines induce a process referred to as apoptosis (cell suicide) thereby confining placental development to the inner part of the uterus. Optimal placental development (placentation) mandates that there be a balance between TH1 and TH-2 cytokines. Most of the cytokine production originates from NK cells (rather than from cytotoxic T-cells/Lymphocytes (CTL)). Excessive production/release of TH-1 cytokines, is toxic to the trophoblast and to endometrial cells, leading to programmed death/suicide (apoptosis) and subsequently to IID.

Functional NK cells reach a maximal concentration in the endometrium by about t day 6-7 days after exposure to progesterone …. This timing corresponds with when the embryo implants into the uterine lining (endometrium).

It is important to bear in mind that measurement of the concentration of blood NK cells has little or no relevance when it comes to assessing NK cell activation (NKa). Rather, it is the NK cell activation that matters. In fact, there are certain conditions (such as with endometriosis) where the NK cell blood concentration is below normal, but NK cell activation is markedly increased.

There are several methods by which NK cell activation (cytotoxicity) can be assessed in the laboratory. Methods such as immunohistochemical assessment of uterine NK cells and/or through measurement of uterine or blood TH-1 cytokines. However, the K-562 target cell blood test still remains the gold standard. With this test, NK cells, isolated from the woman’s blood using Flow Cytometry are incubated in the presence of specific “target cells”. The percentage (%) of “target cells” killed is then quantified. More than 12% killing suggests a level of NK cell activation that usually requires treatment.

Currently, there are less than a half dozen Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the U.S.A that are capable of performing the K-562 target cell test reliably.

There exists a pervasive but blatant misconception on the part of many, that the addition of IL or IVIg to a concentration of NK cells could have an immediate down-regulatory effect on NK cell activity. Neither IVIg nor IL is capable of significantly suppressing already activated “functional NK cells”. They are believed to work through “regulating” NK cell progenitors which only thereupon will start to propagate down-regulated NK cells. Thus, testing for a therapeutic effect would require that the IL/IVIg infusion be done about 14 days prior to ovulation or progesterone administration…  in order to allow for a sufficient number of normal (non-activated) “functional” NK cell” to be present at the implantation site when the embryos are transferred.

Failure to recognize this reality has, in our opinion, established an erroneous demand by practicing IVF doctors, that Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories report on NK cell activity before and again, immediately following laboratory exposure to IVIg and/or IL in different concentrations. Allegedly, this is to allow the treating physician to report back to their patient(s) on whether an IL or IVIG infusion will be effective in downregulating their Nka.  But, since already activated NK cells (NKa) cannot be deactivated in the laboratory, effective NKa down-regulation can only be adequately accomplished through deactivation of NK cell “progenitors /parental” NK cells in order to allow them thereupon, to s propagate normal “functional” NK cells and his takes about 10-14 days, such practice would be of little clinical benefit. This is because even if blood were to be drawn 10 -14 days after IL/IVIg treatment it would require at least an additional 10 -14days to receive results from the laboratory, by which time it would be far too late to be of practical advantage.

ANTIPHOSPHOLIPID ANTIBODIES:

 Many women who experience “unexplained” IVF failure, women with RPL, those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and dermatomyositis (etc.)  as well as women who have endometriosis (“silent” or overt) test positive for APAs. More than 30 years ago, we were the first to propose that women who test positive for APA’s be treated with a mini-dose heparin to improve IVF implantation and thus birth rates. This approach was based upon research that suggested that heparin repels APAs from the surface of the trophoblast (the embryo’s “root system) thereby reducing its ant-implantation effects.  We subsequently demonstrated that such therapy only improved IVF outcome in women whose APAs were directed against two specific IgG and/or IgM phospholipids [i.e., phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS)].  More recently low dosage heparin therapy has been supplanted using longer acting low molecular weight heparinoids such as Lovenox and Clexane.   It is very possible that APAs alone do not cause IID but that their presence might help to identify a population at risk due to concomitant activation of uterine natural killer cells (Nka) which through excessive TH-1 cytokine production causes in IID: This is supported by the following observations:

  • The presence of female APAs in cases of male factor cases appears to bear no relationship to IID.
  • Only APA positive women who also test positive for abnormal NK activity appear to benefit from selective immunotherapy with intralipid/IVIg/ steroids.
  • Most APA positive women who have increased NK cell activity also harbor IgG or IgM phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS) antibodies.

ANTITHYROID ANTIBODIES: (ATA).

 A clear relationship has been established between ATA and reproductive failure (especially recurrent miscarriage and infertility).

Between 2% and 5% of women of the childbearing age have reduced thyroid hormone activity (hypothyroidism). Women with hypothyroidism often manifest with reproductive failure i.e., infertility, unexplained (often repeated) IVF failure, or recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL). The condition is 5-10 times more common in women than in men. In most cases hypothyroidism is caused by damage to the thyroid gland resulting from of thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s disease) caused by damage done to the thyroid gland by antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal auto-antibodies. 

The increased prevalence of hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) in women is likely the result of a combination of genetic factors, estrogen-related effects, and chromosome X abnormalities.  This having been said, there is significantly increased incidence of thyroid antibodies in non-pregnant women with a history of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss and thyroid antibodies can be present asymptomatically in women without them manifesting with overt clinical or endocrinologic evidence of thyroid disease. In addition, these antibodies may persist in women who have suffered from hyper- or hypothyroidism even after normalization of their thyroid function by appropriate pharmacological treatment. The manifestations of reproductive dysfunction thus seem to be linked more to the presence of thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) than to clinical existence of hypothyroidism and treatment of the latter does not routinely result in a subsequent improvement in reproductive performance.

It follows, that if antithyroid autoantibodies are associated with reproductive dysfunction they may serve as useful markers for predicting poor outcome in patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies.

Some years back, I reported on the fact that 47% of women who harbor thyroid autoantibodies, regardless of the absence or presence of clinical hypothyroidism, have activated uterine natural killer cells (NKa) cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and that such women often present with reproductive dysfunction. We demonstrated that appropriate immunotherapy with IVIG or intralipid (IL) and steroids, subsequently often results in a significant improvement in reproductive performance in such cases.

The fact that almost 50% of women who harbor antithyroid antibodies do not have activated CTL/NK cells suggests that it is NOT the antithyroid antibodies themselves that cause reproductive dysfunction. The activation of CTL and NK cells that occurs in half of the cases with TAI is probably an epiphenomenon with the associated reproductive dysfunction being due to CTL/NK cell activation that damages the early “root system” (trophoblast) of the implanting embryo. We have shown that treatment of those women who have thyroid antibodies + NKa/CTL using IL/steroids, improves subsequent reproductive performance while women with thyroid antibodies who do not harbor NKa/CTL do not require or benefit from such treatment

TEATMENT OF IID:

The mainstay of treatment involves the selective use of:

  • Intralipid (IL) infusion
  • IVIg therapy
  • Corticosteroids (Prednisone/dexamethasone)
  • Heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane)

Intralipid (IL) Therapy:  IL is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

Intralipid is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

            Can laboratory testing be used to assess for an immediate effect of IL on Nka suppression?  Since the downregulation of NKa through IL (or IVIg) therapy can take several weeks to become measurable, it follows that there is really no benefit in trying to assess the potential efficacy of such treatment by retesting NKa in the laboratory after adding IL (or IVIg) to the cells being tested.

IVIg Therapy:  Until about a decade ago, the only effective and available way (in the US) to down-regulate activated NK cells was through the intravenous administration of a blood product known as immunoglobulin-G (IVIg). The fear (albeit unfounded) that the administration of this product might lead to the transmission of viral infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, plus the high cost of IVIG along with the fact that significant side effects occurred about 20% of the time, led to bad press and bad publicity for the entire field of reproductive immunology. It was easier for RE’s to simply say “I don’t believe IVIg works” and thereby avoid risk and bad publicity. But the thousands of women who had babies because of NK cell activity being downregulated through its use, attests to IVIg’s efficacy. But those of us who felt morally obligated to many desperate patients who would not conceive without receiving IVIg were facing an uphill battle. The bad press caused by fear mongering took its toll and spawned a malicious controversy. It was only through the introduction of IL less (about 15-20 years ago ), that the tide began to turn in favor of those patients who required low cost, safe and effective immunotherapy to resolve their IID.

 Corticosteroid Therapy (e.g., Prednisone, and Dexamethasone): Corticosteroid therapy has become a mainstay in the treatment of most women undergoing IVF. It is believed by most to enhance implantation due to an overall immunomodulatory effect. Corticosteroids reduce TH-1 cytokine production by CTL. When given in combination with IL or IVIG they augment the implantation process. The prednisone or dexamethasone therapy must commence (along with IL/IVIg) 10-14 days prior to egg retrieval and continue until pregnancy is discounted or until the 10th week of pregnancy.

 Heparinoid Therapy: There is compelling evidence that the subcutaneous administration of low molecular heparin (Clexane, Lovenox) once daily, (starting with the onset of ovarian stimulation) can improve IVF birthrate in women who test positive for APAs and might prevent later pregnancy loss when used to treat certain thrombophilias (e.g., homozygous MTHFR mutation)

What About Baby Aspirin? In our opinion, aspirin has little (if any) value when it comes to IID, and besides, it could even reduce the chance of success. The reason for this is that aspirin thins the blood and increases the potential to bleed. This effect can last for up to a week and could complicate an egg retrieval procedure or result in “concealed” intrauterine bleeding at the time of embryo transfer, thereby potentially compromising IVF success.

TH-1 Cytokine Blockers (Enbrel, Humira): TH-1 cytokine blockers, (Enbrel and Humira) are in our opinion relatively ineffective in the IVF setting. There has to date been no convincing data to support their use. However, these blockers could have a role in the treatment of a threatened miscarriage thought to be due to CTL/NK activation, but not for IVF. The reason is that the very initial phase of implantation requires a cellular response involving TH-1 cytokines. To block them completely (rather than simply restore a TH-1:TH-2 balance as occurs with IL therapy) so very early on could compromise rather than benefit implantation.

Leukocyte Immunization Therapy (LIT): The subcutaneous injection of the male partner’s lymphocytes to the mother is thought to enhance the ability for the mother’s decidua (uterus) to recognize the DQ alpha matching embryo as “self” or “friend” and thereby avert its rejection. LIT has been shown to up-regulate Treg cells and thus down-regulate NK cell activation thereby improving decidual TH-1:TH-2 balance. Thus, there could be a therapeutic benefit from such therapy. However, the same benefit can be achieved through the use of IL plus corticosteroids. Besides, IL is much less expensive, and the use of LIT is prohibited by law in the U.S.A.

There are two categories of immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to NK cell activation (NKa).

Autoimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, the woman will often have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus Erythematosus, and thyroid autoimmune activity (e.g., Hashimoto’s disease) etc. Autoimmune as well as in about one third of cases of endometriosis, regardless of severity.  Autoimmune sometimes also occurs in the absence of a personal or family history of autoimmune disease.

When it comes to treating  NKa in  IVF cases complicated by autoimmune implantation dysfunction,  the combination of daily oral dexamethasone commencing with the onset of ovarian stimulation and continuing until the 10th week of pregnancy, combined with an initial infusion of IL (100ml, 20% Il dissolved in 500cc of saline solution, 10-14  days prior to PGT-normal embryo transfer and repeated once more (only), as  soon as the blood pregnancy test is positive), the anticipated chance of a viable pregnancy occurring within 2 completed IVF attempts (including fresh + frozen ET’s)  in women under 39Y (who have normal ovarian reserve)  is approximately  65%.

Alloimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, NK cell activation results from uterine exposure to an embryo derived through fertilization by a spermatozoon that shares certain genotypic (HLA/DQ alpha) similarities with that of the embryo recipient.

Partial DQ alpha/HLA match:  Couples who upon genotyping are shown to share only one DQ alpha/HLA gene are labeled as having a “partial match”. The detection of a “partial match” in association with NKa puts the couple at a considerable disadvantage with regard to IVF outcome. It should be emphasized however, that in the absence of associated Nka, DQ alpha/HLA matching whether “partial” or “total (see below) will NOT cause an IID. Since we presently have no way of determining which embryo carries a matching paternal DQ alpha gene, it follows that each embryo transferred will have about half the chance of propagating a viable pregnancy. Treatment of a partial DQ alpha/HLA match (+ Nka) involves the same IL, infusion as for autoimmune-Nka with one important caveat, namely that here we prescribe oral prednisone as adjunct therapy (rather than dexamethasone) and the IL infusion is repeated every 2-4 weeks following the diagnosis of pregnancy and continued until the 24th week of gestation. Additionally, (as alluded to elsewhere) in such cases we transfer a single (1) embryo at a time. This is because, the likelihood is that one out of two embryos will “match” and we are fearful that if we transfer >1 embryo, and one transferred embryos “matches” it could cause further activation of uterine NK cells and so prejudice the implantation of all transferred embryos. Here it should be emphasized that if associated with Nka, a matching embryo will still be at risk of rejection even in the presence of Intralipid (or IVIg) therapy.

Total (complete) DQ alpha Match:   Here the husband’s DQ alpha genotype matches both of that of his partner’s. While this occurs very infrequently, a total alloimmune (DQ alpha) match with accompanying Nka, means that the chance of a viable pregnancy resulting in a live birth at term, is unfortunately greatly diminished.  Several instances in our experience have required the use of a gestational surrogate.

It is indeed unfortunate that so many patients are being denied the ability to go from “infertility to family” simply because (for whatever reason) so many reproductive specialists refuse to embrace the role of immunologic factors in the genesis of intractable reproductive dysfunction. Hopefully this will change, and the sooner the better.

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I urge you to  visit my website at  www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • A Fresh Look at the Indications for IVF
  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • IVF and the use of Supplementary Human Growth Hormone (HGH) : Is it Worth Trying and who needs it?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • IVF: Approach to Selecting the Best Embryos for Transfer to the Uterus.
  • Fresh versus Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET) Enhance IVF Outcome
  • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
  • Genetically Testing Embryos for IVF
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA): Is There an actual “There, There”?
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • Diagnosing and Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • A Thin Uterine Lining: Vaginal Viagra is Often the Answer (update)
  • Cervical Ureaplasma Urealyticum Infection: How can it Affect IUI/IVF Outcome?
  • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF
  • The Basic Infertility Work-Up
  • Defining and Addressing an Abnormal Luteal Phase
  • Male Factor Infertility
  • Routine Fertilization by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An Argument in Favor
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Antisperm Antibodies, Infertility and the Role of IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
  • Endometriosis and Infertily
  • Endometriosis and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) and IVF
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: Why IVF Rather than IUI or Surgery Should be the Treatment of Choice.
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: The Influence of Age and Severity on Treatment Options
  • Early -Endometriosis-related Infertility: Ovulation Induction (with or without Intrauterine Insemination) and Reproductive Surgery  Versus IVF
  • Deciding Between Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s & Con’s!IUI-Reflecting upon its Use and Misuse: Time for a Serious “Reality Check
  • Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its ue
  • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!

Name: Miranda B

November 23, 2022
Hi, I’m 32 years old and was diagnosed with mild endo which was removed last year. I’ve also had a few polyps, fibroids and cysts removed in the past 2 years. I had 3 failed IUIs and recently my first IVF transfer failure. My husband has low sperm motility. My doctor recommended ERA before our… Read More »

Answer:

I suggest we talk. Please consider calling Patti Converse (my assistant) at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me to discuss.

 

When women with infertility due to endometriosis seek treatment, they are all too often advised to first try ovarian stimulation (ovulation Induction) with intrauterine insemination (IUI) ………as if to say that this would be just as likely to result in a baby as would in vitro fertilization (IVF). Nothing could be further from reality It is time to set the record straight. And hence this communication!

Bear in mind that the cost of treatment comprises both financial and emotional components and that it is the cost of having a baby rather than cost of a procedure. Then consider the fact that regardless of her age or the severity of the condition, women with infertility due to endometriosis are several fold more likely to have a baby per treatment cycle of IVF than with IUI. It follows that there is a distinct advantage in doing IVF first, rather than as a last resort.

So then, why is it that ovulation induction with or without IUI is routinely offered proposed preferentially to women with mild to moderately severe endometriosis? Could it in part be due to the fact that most practicing doctors do not provide IVF services but are indeed remunerated for ovarian stimulation and IUI services and are thus economically incentivized to offer IUI as a first line approach? Or is because of the often erroneous belief that the use of fertility drugs will in all cases induce the release (ovulation) of multiple eggs at a time and thereby increase the chance of a pregnancy. The truth however is that while normally ovulating women (the majority of women who have mild to moderately severe endometriosis) respond to ovarian stimulation with fertility drugs by forming multiple follicles, they rarely ovulate > 1 (or at most 2) egg at a time. This is because such women usually only develop a single dominant follicle which upon ovulating leaves the others intact. This is the reason why normally ovulating women who undergo ovulation induction usually will not experience improved pregnancy potential, nor will they have a marked increase in multiple pregnancies. Conversely, non-ovulating women (as well as those with dysfunctional ovulation) who undergo ovulation induction, almost always develop multiple large follicles that tend to ovulate in unison. This increases the potential to conceive along with an increased risk multiple pregnancies.

 

So let me take a stab at explaining why IVF is more successful than IUI or surgical correction in the treatment of endometriosis-related infertility:

  1. The toxic pelvic factor: Endometriosis is a condition where the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside the uterus. While this process begins early in the reproductive life of a woman, with notable exceptions, it only becomes manifest in the 2ndhalf of her reproductive life. After some time, these deposits bleed and when the blood absorbs it leaves a visible pigment that can be identified upon surgical exposure of the pelvis. Such endometriotic deposits invariably produce and release toxins” into the pelvic secretions that coat the surface of the membrane (the peritoneum) that envelops all abdominal and pelvic organs, including the uterus, tubes and ovaries. These toxins are referred to as “the peritoneal factor”. Following ovulation, the egg(s) must pass from the ovary (ies), through these toxic secretions to reach the sperm lying in wait in the outer part the fallopian tube (s) tube(s) where, the sperm lie in waiting. In the process of going from the ovary(ies) to the Fallopian tube(s) these eggs become exposed to the “peritoneal toxins” which alter s the envelopment of the egg (i.e. zona pellucida) making it much less receptive to being fertilized by sperm. As a consequence, if they are chromosomally normal such eggs are rendered much less likely to be successfully fertilized. Since almost all women with endometriosis have this problem, it is not difficult to understand why they are far less likely to conceive following ovulation (whether natural or induced through ovulation induction). This “toxic peritoneal factor impacts on eggs that are ovulated whether spontaneously (as in natural cycles) or following the use of fertility drugs and serves to explain why the chance of pregnancy is so significantly reduced in normally ovulating women with endometriosis.
  2. The Immunologic Factor: About one third of women who have endometriosis will also have an immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to activation of uterine natural killer cells (NKa).  This will require selective immunotherapy with Intralipid infusions, and/or heparinoids (e.g. Clexane/Lovenox) that is much more effectively implemented in combination with IVF.
  3. Surgical treatment of mild to moderate endometriosis does not usually improve pregnancy potential:. The reason is that endometriosis can be considered to be a “work in progress”. New lesions are constantly developing. So it is that for every endometriotic seen there are usually many non-pigmented deposits that are in the process of evolving but are not yet visible to the naked eye and such evolving (non-visible) lesions can also release the same “toxins that compromise fertilization. Accordingly, even after surgical removal of all visible lesions the invisible ones continue to release “toxins” and retain the ability to compromise natural fertilization. It also explains why surgery to remove endometriotic deposits in women with mild to moderate endometriosis usually will fail to significantly improve pregnancy generating potential. In contrast, IVF, by removing eggs from the ovaries prior to ovulation, fertilizing these outside of the body and then transferring the resulting embryo(s) to the uterus, bypasses the toxic pelvic environment and is therefore is the treatment of choice in cases of endometriosis-related infertility.
  4. Ovarian Endometriomas: Women, who have advanced endometriosis, often have endometriotic ovarian cysts, known as endometriomas. These cysts contain decomposed menstrual blood that looks like melted chocolate…hence the name “chocolate cysts”. These space occupying lesions can activate ovarian connective tissue (stroma or theca) resulting in an overproduction of male hormones (especially testosterone). An excess of ovarian testosterone can severely compromise follicle and egg development in the affected ovary. Thus there are two reasons for treating endometriomas. The first is to alleviate symptoms and the second is to optimize egg and embryo quality. Conventional treatment of endometriomas involves surgical drainage of the cyst contents with subsequent removal of the cyst wall (usually by laparoscopy), increasing the risk of surgical complications. We recently reported on a new, effective and safe outpatient approach to treating endometriomas in women planning to undergo IVF. We termed the treatment ovarian Sclerotherapy.  The process involves; needle aspiration of the “chocolate colored liquid content of the endometriotic cyst, followed by the injection of 5% tetracycline hydrochloride into the cyst cavity. Such treatment will, more than 75% of the time result in disappearance of the lesion within 6-8 weeks. Ovarian sclerotherapy can be performed under local anesthesia or under conscious sedation. It is a safe and effective alternative to surgery for definitive treatment of recurrent ovarian endometriomas in a select group of patients planning to undergo IVF

 

 

 I am not suggesting that all women with infertility-related endometriosis should automatically resort to IVF. Quite to the contrary…. In spite of having reduced fertility potential, many women with mild to moderate endometriosis can and do go on to conceive on their own (without treatment). It is just that the chance of this happening is so is much lower than normal.

IN SUMMARY: For young ovulating women (< 35 years of age ) with endometriosis, who have normal reproductive anatomy and have fertile male partners, expectant treatment is often preferable to IUI or IVF. However, for older women, women who (regardless of their age) have any additional factor (e.g. pelvic adhesions, ovarian endometriomas, male infertility, IID or diminished ovarian reserve-DOR) IVF should be the primary treatment of choice.

 

I strongly recommend that you visit www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF:
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management: (Case Report)
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; how it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas
  • Should IVF Treatment Cycles be provided uninterrupted or be Conducted in 7-12 Pre-scheduled “Batches” per Year
  • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
  • How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF?
  • Endometriosis and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) and IVF
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: Why IVF Rather than IUI or Surgery Should be the Treatment of Choice.
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: The Influence of Age and Severity on Treatment Options
  • Early -Endometriosis-related Infertility: Ovulation Induction (with or without Intrauterine Insemination) and Reproductive Surgery Versus IVF
  • Treating Ovarian Endometriomas with Sclerotherapy.
  • Effect of Advanced Endometriosis with Endometriotic cysts (Endometriomas) on IVF Outcome & Treatment Options.
  • Deciding Between Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s &
  • Induction of Ovulation with Clomiphene Citrate: Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its use
  • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!

 

 

 

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ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!

INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)

Founded in April 2019, Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) offers online (Skype/FaceTime) consultations to patients from > 40 different countries. All consultations are followed by a detailed written report presenting my personal recommendations for treatment of what often constitute complex Reproductive Issues.

 

If you wish to schedule an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant (Patti Converse) by phone (800-780-7437/702-533-2691), email (concierge@SherIVF.com) or,  enroll online on then home-page of my website (www.SherIVF.com). 

 

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

 

Geoff Sher

Name: Liza S

November 23, 2022
Hello, I saw your podcast with Dr Aimee. I wanted to ask what treatments is given in case of HLA DQ alpha in both partners? We both have it unfortunately and are experiencing recurrent ivf failure ( had two chemicals and 2 negatives)

Answer:

I really think I can help you. I invite you to contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me.

 

Currently, with few exceptions, practitioners of assisted reproduction tend to attribute “unexplained and/or repeated” IVF failure(s), almost exclusively to poor embryo quality, advocating adjusted protocols for ovarian stimulation and/or gamete and embryo preparation as a potential remedy. The idea, having failed IVF, that all it takes to ultimately succeed is to keep trying the same recipe is over-simplistic.

The implantation process begins six or seven days after fertilization of the egg. At this time, specialized embryonic cells (i.e., trophoblasts), that later become the placenta begin growing into the uterine lining. When the trophoblast and the uterine lining meet, they, along with immune cells in the lining, become involved in a “cross talk” through mutual exchange of hormone-like substances called cytokines. Because of this complex immunologic interplay, the uterus can foster the embryo’s successful growth. Thus, from the earliest stage, the trophoblast establishes the very foundation for the nutritional, hormonal and respiratory interchange between mother and baby.  In this manner, the interactive process of implantation is not only central to survival in early pregnancy but also to the quality of life after birth.

There is an ever growing realization, recognition, and acceptance of the fact that uterine immunologic dysfunction can lead to immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) with “unexplained” infertility, IVF failure, and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

DIAGNOSIS 

Because immunologic problems may lead to implantation failure, it is important to properly evaluate women with risk factors such as:

  • Unexplained or recurrent IVF failures
  • Unexplained infertility or a family history of autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and hypothyroidism).
  • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)
  • Endometriosis
  • A personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, e.g., Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease) etc.

Considering its importance, it is not surprising that the failure of a properly functioning immunologic interaction during implantation has been implicated as a cause of recurrent miscarriage, late pregnancy fetal loss, IVF failure and infertility. A partial list of immunologic factors that may be involved in these situations includes:

  • Antiphospholipid antibodies (APA)
  • Antithyroid antibodies (ATA/AMA)
  • Activated natural killer cells (NKa)

ACTIVATED NATURAL KILLER CELLS (NKa):

Following ovulation and during early pregnancy, NK cells and T-cells comprise more than 80% of the lymphocyte-immune cells that frequent the uterine lining. These lymphocytes (white blood cells) journey from the bone marrow to the uterus and under hormonal regulation, proliferate there. After exposure to progesterone (due to induced /spontaneous exogenous administration), they begin to produce TH-1 and TH-2 cytokines. TH-2 cytokines are humoral in nature and induce the trophoblast (“root system of the embryo”) to permeate the uterine lining while TH-I cytokines induce a process referred to as apoptosis (cell suicide) thereby confining placental development to the inner part of the uterus. Optimal placental development (placentation) mandates that there be a balance between TH1 and TH-2 cytokines. Most of the cytokine production originates from NK cells (rather than from cytotoxic T-cells/Lymphocytes (CTL)). Excessive production/release of TH-1 cytokines, is toxic to the trophoblast and to endometrial cells, leading to programmed death/suicide (apoptosis) and subsequently to IID.

Functional NK cells reach a maximal concentration in the endometrium by about t day 6-7 days after exposure to progesterone …. This timing corresponds with when the embryo implants into the uterine lining (endometrium).

It is important to bear in mind that measurement of the concentration of blood NK cells has little or no relevance when it comes to assessing NK cell activation (NKa). Rather, it is the NK cell activation that matters. In fact, there are certain conditions (such as with endometriosis) where the NK cell blood concentration is below normal, but NK cell activation is markedly increased.

There are several methods by which NK cell activation (cytotoxicity) can be assessed in the laboratory. Methods such as immunohistochemical assessment of uterine NK cells and/or through measurement of uterine or blood TH-1 cytokines. However, the K-562 target cell blood test still remains the gold standard. With this test, NK cells, isolated from the woman’s blood using Flow Cytometry are incubated in the presence of specific “target cells”. The percentage (%) of “target cells” killed is then quantified. More than 12% killing suggests a level of NK cell activation that usually requires treatment.

Currently, there are less than a half dozen Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the U.S.A that are capable of performing the K-562 target cell test reliably.

There exists a pervasive but blatant misconception on the part of many, that the addition of IL or IVIg to a concentration of NK cells could have an immediate down-regulatory effect on NK cell activity. Neither IVIg nor IL is capable of significantly suppressing already activated “functional NK cells”. They are believed to work through “regulating” NK cell progenitors which only thereupon will start to propagate down-regulated NK cells. Thus, testing for a therapeutic effect would require that the IL/IVIg infusion be done about 14 days prior to ovulation or progesterone administration…  in order to allow for a sufficient number of normal (non-activated) “functional” NK cell” to be present at the implantation site when the embryos are transferred.

Failure to recognize this reality has, in our opinion, established an erroneous demand by practicing IVF doctors, that Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories report on NK cell activity before and again, immediately following laboratory exposure to IVIg and/or IL in different concentrations. Allegedly, this is to allow the treating physician to report back to their patient(s) on whether an  IL or IVIG infusion will be effective in down-regulating their Nka.  But, since already activated NK cells (NKa) cannot be deactivated in the laboratory, effective NKa down-regulation can only be adequately accomplished through deactivation of NK cell “progenitors /parental” NK cells in order too allow them thereupon, to s propagate normal “functional” NK cells and his takes about 10-14 days, such practice  would be of little clinical benefit. This is because even if blood were to be drawn 10 -14 days after IL/IVIg treatment it would require at least  an additional 10 -14days to receive results from the laboratory, by which time it would be far too late to be of practical advantage.

ANTIPHOSPHOLIPID ANTIBODIES:

 Many women who experience “unexplained” IVF failure, women with RPL, those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and dermatomyositis (etc.)  as well as women who have endometriosis (“silent” or overt) test positive for APAs. More than 30 years ago, we were the first to propose that women who test positive for APA’s be treated with a mini-dose heparin to improve IVF implantation and thus birth rates. This approach was based upon research that suggested that heparin repels APAs from the surface of the trophoblast (the embryo’s “root system) thereby reducing its ant-implantation effects.  We subsequently demonstrated that such therapy only improved IVF outcome in women whose APAs were directed against two specific IgG and/or IgM phospholipids [i.e., phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS)].  More recently low dosage heparin therapy has been supplanted using longer acting low molecular weight heparinoids such as Lovenox and Clexane.   It is very possible that APAs alone do not cause IID but that their presence might help to identify a population at risk due to concomitant activation of uterine natural killer cells (Nka) which through excessive TH-1 cytokine production causes in IID: This is supported by the following observations:

  • The presence of female APAs in cases of male factor cases appears to bear no relationship to IID.
  • Only APA positive women who also test positive for abnormal NK activity appear to benefit from selective immunotherapy with intralipid/IVIg/ steroids.
  • Most APA positive women who have increased NK cell activity also harbor IgG or IgM phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS) antibodies.

ANTITHYROID ANTIBODIES: (ATA).

 A clear relationship has been established between ATA and reproductive failure (especially recurrent miscarriage and infertility).

Between 2% and 5% of women of the childbearing age have reduced thyroid hormone activity (hypothyroidism). Women with hypothyroidism often manifest with reproductive failure i.e., infertility, unexplained (often repeated) IVF failure, or recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL). The condition is 5-10 times more common in women than in men. In most cases hypothyroidism is caused by damage to the thyroid gland resulting from of thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s disease) caused by damage done to the thyroid gland by antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal auto-antibodies. 

The increased prevalence of hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) in women is likely the result of a combination of genetic factors, estrogen-related effects, and chromosome X abnormalities.  This having been said, there is significantly increased incidence of thyroid antibodies in non-pregnant women with a history of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss and thyroid antibodies can be present asymptomatically in women without them manifesting with overt clinical or endocrinologic evidence of thyroid disease. In addition, these antibodies may persist in women who have suffered from hyper- or hypothyroidism even after normalization of their thyroid function by appropriate pharmacological treatment. The manifestations of reproductive dysfunction thus seem to be linked more to the presence of thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) than to clinical existence of hypothyroidism and treatment of the latter does not routinely result in a subsequent improvement in reproductive performance.

It follows, that if antithyroid autoantibodies are associated with reproductive dysfunction they may serve as useful markers for predicting poor outcome in patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies.

Some years back, I reported on the fact that 47% of women who harbor thyroid autoantibodies, regardless of the absence or presence of clinical hypothyroidism, have activated uterine natural killer cells (NKa) cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and that such women often present with reproductive dysfunction. We demonstrated that appropriate immunotherapy with IVIG or intralipid (IL) and steroids, subsequently often results in a significant improvement in reproductive performance in such cases.

The fact that almost 50% of women who harbor antithyroid antibodies do not have activated CTL/NK cells suggests that it is NOT the antithyroid antibodies themselves that cause reproductive dysfunction. The activation of CTL and NK cells that occurs in half of the cases with TAI is probably an epiphenomenon with the associated reproductive dysfunction being due to CTL/NK cell activation that damages the early “root system” (trophoblast) of the implanting embryo. We have shown that treatment of those women who have thyroid antibodies + NKa/CTL using IL/steroids, improves subsequent reproductive performance while women with thyroid antibodies who do not harbor NKa/CTL do not require or benefit from such treatment

TEATMENT OF IID:

The mainstay of treatment involves the selective use of :

  • Intralipid (IL) infusion
  • IVIg therapy
  • Corticosteroids (Prednisone/dexamethasone)
  • Heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane)

Intralipid (IL) Therapy:  IL is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

Intralipid is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

            Can laboratory testing be used to assess for an immediate effect of IL on Nka suppression?  Since the downregulation of NKa through IL (or IVIg) therapy can take several weeks to become measurable, it follows that there is really no benefit in trying to assess the potential efficacy of such treatment by retesting NKa in the laboratory after adding IL (or IVIg) to the cells being tested.

IVIg Therapy:  Until about a decade ago, the only effective and available way (in the US) to down-regulate activated NK cells was through the intravenous administration of a blood product known as immunoglobulin-G (IVIg). The fear (albeit unfounded) that the administration of this product might lead to the transmission of viral infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, plus the high cost of IVIG along with the fact that significant side effects occurred about 20% of the time, led to bad press and bad publicity for the entire field of reproductive immunology. It was easier for RE’s to simply say “I don’t believe IVIg works” and thereby avoid risk and bad publicity. But the thousands of women who had babies because of NK cell activity being downregulated through its use, attests to IVIg’s efficacy. But those of us who felt morally obligated to many desperate patients who would not conceive without receiving IVIg were facing an uphill battle. The bad press caused by fear mongering took its toll and spawned a malicious controversy. It was only through the introduction of IL less (about 15-20 years ago ), that the tide began to turn in favor of those patients who required low cost, safe and effective immunotherapy to resolve their IID.

 Corticosteroid Therapy (e.g., Prednisone, and Dexamethasone): Corticosteroid therapy has become a mainstay in the treatment of most women undergoing IVF. It is believed by most to enhance implantation due to an overall immunomodulatory effect. Corticosteroids reduce TH-1 cytokine production by CTL. When given in combination with IL or IVIG they augment the implantation process. The prednisone or dexamethasone therapy must commence (along with IL/IVIg)  10-14 days prior to egg retrieval and continue until pregnancy is discounted or until the 10th week of pregnancy.

 Heparinoid Therapy: There is compelling evidence that the subcutaneous administration of low molecular heparin (Clexane, Lovenox) once daily, (starting with the onset of ovarian stimulation) can improve IVF birthrate in women who test positive for APAs and might prevent later pregnancy loss when used to treat certain thrombophilias (e.g. homozygous MTHFR mutation)

What About Baby Aspirin? In our opinion, aspirin has little (if any) value when it comes to IID, and besides, it could even reduce the chance of success. The reason for this is that aspirin thins the blood and increases the potential to bleed. This effect can last for up to a week and could complicate an egg retrieval procedure or result in “concealed” intrauterine bleeding at the time of embryo transfer, thereby potentially compromising IVF success.

TH-1 Cytokine Blockers (Enbrel, Humira): TH-1 cytokine blockers, (Enbrel and Humira) are in our opinion relatively ineffective in the IVF setting. There has to date been no convincing data to support their use. However, these blockers could have a role in the treatment of a threatened miscarriage thought to be due to CTL/NK activation, but not for IVF. The reason is that the very initial phase of implantation requires a cellular response involving TH-1 cytokines. To block them completely (rather than simply restore a TH-1:TH-2 balance as occurs with IL therapy) so very early on could compromise rather than benefit implantation.

Leukocyte Immunization Therapy (LIT): The subcutaneous injection of the male partner’s lymphocytes to the mother is thought to enhance the ability for the mother’s decidua (uterus) to recognize the DQ alpha matching embryo as “self” or “friend” and thereby avert its rejection. LIT has been shown to up-regulate Treg cells and thus down-regulate NK cell activation thereby improving decidual TH-1:TH-2 balance. Thus, there could be a therapeutic benefit from such therapy. However, the same benefit can be achieved through the use of IL plus corticosteroids. Besides, IL is much less expensive, and the use of LIT is prohibited by law in the U.S.A.

There are two categories of immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to NK cell activation (NKa).

Autoimmune Implantation Dysfunction:

Here, the woman will often have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus Erythematosus, and thyroid autoimmune activity (e.g., Hashimoto’s disease) etc. Autoimmune as well as in about one third of cases of endometriosis, regardless of severity.  Autoimmune sometimes also occurs in the absence of a personal or family history of autoimmune disease.

When it comes to treating  NKa in  IVF cases complicated by autoimmune implantation dysfunction,  the combination of daily oral dexamethasone commencing with the onset of ovarian stimulation and continuing until the 10th week of pregnancy, combined with an initial infusion of IL (100ml, 20% Il dissolved in 500cc of saline solution, 10-14  days prior to PGT-normal embryo transfer and repeated once more (only), as  soon as the blood pregnancy test is positive), the anticipated chance of a viable pregnancy occurring within 2 completed IVF attempts (including fresh + frozen ET’s)  in women under 39Y (who have normal ovarian reserve)  is approximately  65%.

Alloimmune Implantation Dysfunction:

 Here, NK cell activation results from uterine exposure to an embryo derived through fertilization by a spermatozoon that shares certain genotypic (HLA/DQ alpha) similarities  with that of the embryo recipient.

Partial DQ alpha/HLA match:  Couples who upon genotyping are shown to share only one DQ alpha/HLA gene are labeled as having a “partial match”. The detection of a “partial match” in association with NKa puts the couple at a considerable disadvantage with regard to IVF outcome. It should be emphasized however, that in the absence of associated Nka, DQ alpha/HLA matching whether “partial” or “total (see below) will NOT cause an IID. Since we presently have no way of determining which embryo carries a matching paternal DQ alpha gene, it follows that each embryo transferred will have about half the chance of propagating a viable pregnancy. Treatment of a partial DQ alpha/HLA match (+ Nka) involves the same IL, infusion as for autoimmune-Nka with one important caveat, namely that here we prescribe oral prednisone as adjunct therapy (rather than dexamethasone) and the IL infusion is repeated every 2-4 weeks following the diagnosis of pregnancy and continued until the 24th week of gestation. Additionally, (as alluded to elsewhere) in such cases we transfer a single (1) embryo at a time. This is because, the likelihood is that one out of two embryos will “match” and we are fearful that if we transfer >1 embryo, and one transferred embryos “matches” it could cause further activation of uterine NK cells and so prejudice the implantation of all transferred embryos. Here it should be emphasized that if associated with Nka, a matching embryo will still be at risk of rejection even in the presence of Intralipid (or IVIg) therapy.

Total (complete) DQ alpha Match:   Here the husband’s DQ alpha genotype matches both of that of his partner’s. While this occurs very infrequently, a total alloimmune (DQ alpha) match with accompanying Nka, means that the chance of a viable pregnancy resulting in a live birth at term, is unfortunately greatly diminished.  Several instances in our experience have required the use of a gestational surrogate.

It is indeed unfortunate that so many patients are being denied the ability to go from “infertility to family” simply because (for whatever reason) so many reproductive specialists refuse to embrace the role of immunologic factors in the genesis of intractable reproductive dysfunction. Hopefully this will change, and the sooner the better.

I strongly recommend that you visit www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements for Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID): PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) Why did my IVF Fail
  • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL): Why do I keep losing my PregnanciesGenetically Testing Embryos for IVF
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management 🙁 Case Report)
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; how it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!

Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy

Name: Rachel P

November 23, 2022
Good afternoon, I recently heard your interview with Dr. Aimee (the Egg whisperer) about reoccurring implantation failure. My husband and I are seeing a fertility specialist in the Chicagoland area and we have gone through the gambit of miscarriage from natural cycle at 7.5 weeks (likely genetic issue with the embryo) to me needing Levothyroxene… Read More »

Answer:

I really suspect an underlying implantation dysfunction…probably an immunologic implantation dysfunction. If I am correct, you were not (in my opinion)  adequately treated. WE should talk!!

Might I suggest that you contact my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me. I believe it would be well worthwhile .

 

Implantation dysfunction is unfortunately often overlooked as an important cause of IVF failure. This is especially relevant in cases of unexplained IVF failure, recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), and in women with underlying endo-uterine surface lesions, thickness of the uterine lining (endometrium) and /or immunologic factors.

IVF success rates have been improving over the last decade. The average live birth rate per embryo transfer in the U.S.A for women under 40y using their own eggs is currently better than 1:3 women. However, there is still a wide variation from program to program for IVF live birth rates, ranging from 20% to near 50%. Based upon these statistics, most women undergoing IVF in the United States require two or more attempts to have a baby. IVF practitioners in the United States commonly attribute the wide dichotomy in IVF success rates to variability in expertise of the various embryology laboratories. This is far from accurate. In fact, other factors such as wide variations in patient selection and the failure to develop individualized protocols for ovarian stimulation or to address those infectious, anatomical, and immunologic factors that influence embryo implantation are at least equally important.

About 80% of IVF failures are due to “embryo incompetency” that is largely due to aneuploidy      usually related to advancing age of the woman and is further influenced by other factors such as the protocol selected for ovarian stimulation, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), and severe male factor infertility. However, in about 20% of dysfunctional cases embryo implantation is the cause of failure.

This section will focus on implantation dysfunction and IVF failure due to:

ANATOMICAL ENDO-UTERINE SURFACE LESIONS

            It has long been suspected that anatomical defects of the uterus might result in infertility. While the presence of uterine fibroids, in general, are unlikely to cause infertility, an association between their presence and infertility has been observed in cases where the myomas distort the uterine cavity or protrude through the endometrial lining.  Even small fibroids that lie immediately under the endometrium (submucous fibroids) and protrude into the uterine cavity have the potential to lower embryo implantation.  Multiple fibroids in the uterine wall (intramural fibroids) that encroach upon the uterine cavity can sometimes so compromise blood flow that estrogen delivery is impaired, and the endometrium is unable to thicken properly. This can usually be diagnosed by ultrasound examination during the proliferative phase of the menstrual cycle.  It is likely that any surface lesion in the uterine cavity, whether submucous fibroids, intrauterine adhesions a small endometrial or a placental polyp, has the potential to interfere with implantation by producing a local inflammatory response, not too dissimilar in nature from that which is caused by an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD).       

            Clearly, since even small uterine lesions have the potential to adversely affect implantation, the high cost (financial, physical, and emotional) associated with IVF and related procedures, justifies the routine performance of diagnostic procedures such as an HSG, hysterosonogram (fluid ultrasound examination), or hysteroscopy prior to initiating IVF.  Identifiable uterine lesions that have the potential of impairing implantation usually require surgical intervention.  In most cases, dilatation and curettage (D & C) or hysteroscopic resection will suffice. Some cases might require the performance of a laparotomy.  Such intervention will often result in subsequent improvement of the endometrial response.      

Sonohysterography [Fluid ultrasonography (FUS)]: Fluid ultrasonography is a procedure whereby a sterile solution of saline is injected via a catheter through the cervix and into the uterine cavity. The fluid-distended cavity is examined by vaginal ultrasound for any irregularities that might point to surface lesions such as polyps, fibroid tumors, scarring, or a uterine septum. If performed by an expert, a FUS is highly effective in recognizing even the smallest lesion and can replace hysteroscopy under such circumstances. FUS is less expensive, less traumatic, and equally as effective as hysteroscopy. The only disadvantage lies in the fact that if a lesion is detected, it may require the subsequent performance of hysteroscopy to treat the problem anyway.

Hysteroscopy: Diagnostic hysteroscopy is an office procedure that is performed under intravenous sedation, general anesthesia, or paracervical block with minimal discomfort to the patient. This procedure involves the insertion of a thin, lighted, telescope like instrument known as a hysteroscope through the vagina and cervix into the uterus to fully examine the uterine cavity. The uterus is first distended with normal saline, which is passed through a sleeve adjacent to the hysteroscope. As is the case with FUS, diagnostic hysteroscopy facilitates examination of the inside of the uterus under direct vision for defects that might interfere with implantation. We have observed that approximately one in eight candidates for IVF have lesions that require attention prior to undergoing IVF in order to optimize the chances of a successful outcome. We strongly recommend that all patients undergo therapeutic surgery (usually by hysteroscopy) to correct the pathology prior to IVF.  Depending on the severity and nature of the pathology, therapeutic hysteroscopy may require general anesthesia and, in such cases, should be performed in an outpatient surgical facility or conventional operating room where facilities are available for laparotomy, a procedure in which an incision is made in the abdomen to expose the abdominal contents for diagnosis, or for surgery should this be required.       

THICKNESS OF THE UTERINE LINING (ENDOMETRIUM):

As far back as in 1989 we first reported on the finding that ultrasound assessment of the late proliferative phase endometrium can identify those candidates who are least likely to conceive. We noted that the ideal thickness of the endometrium at the time of ovulation or egg retrieval is >8 mm and that thinner linings are associated with decreased implantation rates.

More than 30 years ago we first showed that in normal and “stimulated” cycles, pre-ovulatory endometrial thickness and ultrasound appearance is predictive of embryo implantation (pregnancy) potential following ET. With conventional IVF and with FET, endometrial lining at the time of the “trigger shot” or with the initiation of progesterone needs to preferably be at least 8 mm in sagittal thickness with a triple line (trilaminar) appearance. Anything less than an 8mm endometrial thickness       is associated with a reduction in live birth rate per ET. An 8-9mm thickness represents a transitional measurement…a “gray zone”.  Hitherto, attempts to augment endometrial growth in women with poor endometrial linings by bolstering circulating estrogen blood levels (through the administration of increased doses of fertility drugs, aspirin administration and by supplementary estrogen therapy) yielded disappointing results.

            A “poor” uterine lining is usually the result of the innermost layer of endometrium (the basal or germinal endometrium from which endometrium grows) not being able to respond to estrogen by propagating an outer, “functional” layer thick enough to support optimal embryo implantation and development of a healthy placenta (placentation). The “functional” layer ultimately comprises 2/3 of the full endometrial thickness and is the layer that sheds with menstruation if no pregnancy occurs.

The main causes of a “poor” uterine lining are:

  • Damage to the basal endometrium because of:
  • Inflammation of the endometrium (endometritis) most commonly resulting from infected products left over following abortion, miscarriage, or birth
  • Surgical trauma due to traumatic uterine scraping, (i.e. due to an over-aggressive D & C)
  • Insensitivity of the basal endometrium to estrogen due to:
  • Prolonged, over-use/misuse of clomiphene citrate
  • Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES). This is a drug that was given to pregnant women in the 1960’s to help prevent miscarriage
  • Over-exposure of the uterine lining to ovarian male hormones (mainly testosterone): Older women, women with diminished ovarian reserve (poor responders) and women with polycystic ovarian syndrome -PCOS tend to have raised LH biological activity. This causes the connective tissue in the ovary (stroma/theca) to overproduce testosterone. The effect may be further exaggerated when certain methods for ovarian stimulation such as “flare” protocols and high dosages of Menopur are used in such cases.
  • Reduced blood flow to the basal endometrium: Examples include.
  • Multiple uterine fibroids – especially when these are present under the endometrium (submucosal)
  • Uterine adenomyosis (excessive, abnormal invasion of the uterine muscle by endometrial glands).

Vaginal Viagra: About 35 years ago, after reporting on the benefit of administering vaginal Sildenafil (Viagra) to women who had implantation dysfunction due to thin endometrial linings we announced the birth of the world’s first “Viagra baby.”  Viagra administered vaginally, but not orally, in affected women improves uterine blood flow causing more estrogen to be delivered to the basal endometrium and increasing the endometrial thickening.  Following vaginal administration, Viagra is rapidly absorbed and quickly reaches the uterine blood system in high concentrations. Thereupon it dilutes out as it is absorbed into the systemic circulation. This probably explains why treatment is virtually devoid of systemic side effects.  It is important to recognize that Viagra will NOT be effective in improving endometrial thickness in all cases. In fact, about one third of women treated fail to show any improvement. This is because in certain cases of thin uterine linings, the basal endometrium will have been permanently damaged and left unresponsive to estrogen. This happens in cases of severe endometrial damage due mainly to post-pregnancy endometritis (inflammation), chronic granulomatous inflammation due to uterine tuberculosis (hardly ever seen in the United States) and following extensive surgical injury to the basal endometrium (as sometimes occurs following over-zealous D&C’s).

  • Immunologic factors: These also play a role in IVF failure (see “Immunologic factors and Implantation” …see below.

IMMUNOLOGIC IMPLANTATION DYSFUNCTION (IID)

            Currently, with few exceptions, practitioners of assisted reproduction tend to attribute “unexplained and/or repeated” IVF failure(s), almost exclusively to poor embryo quality, advocating adjusted protocols for ovarian stimulation and/or gamete and embryo preparation as a potential remedy. The idea, having failed IVF, that all it takes to ultimately succeed is to keep trying the same recipe is over-simplistic.

            The implantation process begins six or seven days after fertilization of the egg. At this time, specialized embryonic cells (i.e., trophoblasts), that later become the placenta begin growing into the uterine lining. When the trophoblast and the uterine lining meet, they, along with immune cells in the lining, become involved in a “cross talk” through mutual exchange of hormone-like substances called cytokines. Because of this complex immunologic interplay, the uterus can foster the embryo’s successful growth. Thus, from the earliest stage, the trophoblast establishes the very foundation for the nutritional, hormonal and respiratory interchange between mother and baby.  In this manner, the interactive process of implantation is not only central to survival in early pregnancy but also to the quality of life after birth.

There is an ever growing realization, recognition, and acceptance of the fact that uterine immunologic dysfunction can lead to immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) with “unexplained” infertility, IVF failure, and recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).

DIAGNOSIS 

Because immunologic problems may lead to implantation failure, it is important to properly evaluate women with risk factors such as:

  • Unexplained or recurrent IVF failures
  • Unexplained infertility or a family history of autoimmune diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and hypothyroidism).
  • Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL)
  • Endometriosis
  • A personal or family history of autoimmune conditions, e.g., Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus erythematosus, autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease) etc.

            Considering its importance, it is not surprising that the failure of a properly functioning immunologic interaction during implantation has been implicated as a cause of recurrent miscarriage, late pregnancy fetal loss, IVF failure and infertility. A partial list of immunologic factors that may be involved in these situations includes:

  • Antiphospholipid antibodies (APA)
  • Antithyroid antibodies (ATA/AMA)
  • Activated natural killer cells (NKa)

ACTIVATED NATURAL KILLER CELLS (NKa):

Following ovulation and during early pregnancy, NK cells and T-cells comprise more than 80% of the lymphocyte-immune cells that frequent the uterine lining. These lymphocytes (white blood cells) journey from the bone marrow to the uterus and under hormonal regulation, proliferate there. After exposure to progesterone (due to induced /spontaneous exogenous administration), they begin to produce TH-1 and TH-2 cytokines. TH-2 cytokines are humoral in nature and induce the trophoblast (“root system of the embryo”) to permeate the uterine lining while TH-I cytokines induce a process referred to as apoptosis (cell suicide) thereby confining placental development to the inner part of the uterus. Optimal placental development (placentation) mandates that there be a balance between TH1 and TH-2 cytokines. Most of the cytokine production originates from NK cells (rather than from cytotoxic T-cells/Lymphocytes (CTL)). Excessive production/release of TH-1 cytokines, is toxic to the trophoblast and to endometrial cells, leading to programmed death/suicide (apoptosis) and subsequently to IID.

Functional NK cells reach a maximal concentration in the endometrium by about t day 6-7 days after exposure to progesterone …. This timing corresponds with when the embryo implants into the uterine lining (endometrium).

It is important to bear in mind that measurement of the concentration of blood NK cells has little or no relevance when it comes to assessing NK cell activation (NKa). Rather, it is the NK cell activation that matters. In fact, there are certain conditions (such as with endometriosis) where the NK cell blood concentration is below normal, but NK cell activation is markedly increased.

There are several methods by which NK cell activation (cytotoxicity) can be assessed in the laboratory. Methods such as immunohistochemical assessment of uterine NK cells and/or through measurement of uterine or blood TH-1 cytokines. However, the K-562 target cell blood test still remains the gold standard. With this test, NK cells, isolated from the woman’s blood using Flow Cytometry are incubated in the presence of specific “target cells”. The percentage (%) of “target cells” killed is then quantified. More than 12% killing suggests a level of NK cell activation that usually requires treatment.

Currently, there are less than a half dozen Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the U.S.A that are capable of performing the K-562 target cell test reliably.

There exists a pervasive but blatant misconception on the part of many, that the addition of IL or IVIg to a concentration of NK cells could have an immediate down-regulatory effect on NK cell activity. Neither IVIg nor IL is capable of significantly suppressing already activated “functional NK cells”. They are believed to work through “regulating” NK cell progenitors which only thereupon will start to propagate down-regulated NK cells. Thus, testing for a therapeutic effect would require that the IL/IVIg infusion be done about 14 days prior to ovulation or progesterone administration…  in order to allow for a sufficient number of normal (non-activated) “functional” NK cell” to be present at the implantation site when the embryos are transferred.

Failure to recognize this reality has, in our opinion, established an erroneous demand by practicing IVF doctors, that Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories report on NK cell activity before and again, immediately following laboratory exposure to IVIg and/or IL in different concentrations. Allegedly, this is to allow the treating physician to report back to their patient(s) on whether an IL or IVIG infusion will be effective in downregulating their Nka.  But, since already activated NK cells (NKa) cannot be deactivated in the laboratory, effective NKa down-regulation can only be adequately accomplished through deactivation of NK cell “progenitors /parental” NK cells in order to allow them thereupon, to s propagate normal “functional” NK cells and his takes about 10-14 days, such practice would be of little clinical benefit. This is because even if blood were to be drawn 10 -14 days after IL/IVIg treatment it would require at least an additional 10 -14days to receive results from the laboratory, by which time it would be far too late to be of practical advantage.

ANTIPHOSPHOLIPID ANTIBODIES:

 Many women who experience “unexplained” IVF failure, women with RPL, those with a personal or family history of autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and dermatomyositis (etc.)  as well as women who have endometriosis (“silent” or overt) test positive for APAs. More than 30 years ago, we were the first to propose that women who test positive for APA’s be treated with a mini-dose heparin to improve IVF implantation and thus birth rates. This approach was based upon research that suggested that heparin repels APAs from the surface of the trophoblast (the embryo’s “root system) thereby reducing its ant-implantation effects.  We subsequently demonstrated that such therapy only improved IVF outcome in women whose APAs were directed against two specific IgG and/or IgM phospholipids [i.e., phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS)].  More recently low dosage heparin therapy has been supplanted using longer acting low molecular weight heparinoids such as Lovenox and Clexane.   It is very possible that APAs alone do not cause IID but that their presence might help to identify a population at risk due to concomitant activation of uterine natural killer cells (Nka) which through excessive TH-1 cytokine production causes in IID: This is supported by the following observations:

  • The presence of female APAs in cases of male factor cases appears to bear no relationship to IID.
  • Only APA positive women who also test positive for abnormal NK activity appear to benefit from selective immunotherapy with intralipid/IVIg/ steroids.
  • Most APA positive women who have increased NK cell activity also harbor IgG or IgM phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidylserine (PS) antibodies.

ANTITHYROID ANTIBODIES: (ATA).

 A clear relationship has been established between ATA and reproductive failure (especially recurrent miscarriage and infertility).

Between 2% and 5% of women of the childbearing age have reduced thyroid hormone activity (hypothyroidism). Women with hypothyroidism often manifest with reproductive failure i.e., infertility, unexplained (often repeated) IVF failure, or recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL). The condition is 5-10 times more common in women than in men. In most cases hypothyroidism is caused by damage to the thyroid gland resulting from of thyroid autoimmunity (Hashimoto’s disease) caused by damage done to the thyroid gland by antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal auto-antibodies. 

The increased prevalence of hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) in women is likely the result of a combination of genetic factors, estrogen-related effects, and chromosome X abnormalities.  This having been said, there is significantly increased incidence of thyroid antibodies in non-pregnant women with a history of infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss and thyroid antibodies can be present asymptomatically in women without them manifesting with overt clinical or endocrinologic evidence of thyroid disease. In addition, these antibodies may persist in women who have suffered from hyper- or hypothyroidism even after normalization of their thyroid function by appropriate pharmacological treatment. The manifestations of reproductive dysfunction thus seem to be linked more to the presence of thyroid autoimmunity (TAI) than to clinical existence of hypothyroidism and treatment of the latter does not routinely result in a subsequent improvement in reproductive performance.

It follows, that if antithyroid autoantibodies are associated with reproductive dysfunction they may serve as useful markers for predicting poor outcome in patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies.

Some years back, I reported on the fact that 47% of women who harbor thyroid autoantibodies, regardless of the absence or presence of clinical hypothyroidism, have activated uterine natural killer cells (NKa) cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and that such women often present with reproductive dysfunction. We demonstrated that appropriate immunotherapy with IVIG or intralipid (IL) and steroids, subsequently often results in a significant improvement in reproductive performance in such cases.

The fact that almost 50% of women who harbor antithyroid antibodies do not have activated CTL/NK cells suggests that it is NOT the antithyroid antibodies themselves that cause reproductive dysfunction. The activation of CTL and NK cells that occurs in half of the cases with TAI is probably an epiphenomenon with the associated reproductive dysfunction being due to CTL/NK cell activation that damages the early “root system” (trophoblast) of the implanting embryo. We have shown that treatment of those women who have thyroid antibodies + NKa/CTL using IL/steroids, improves subsequent reproductive performance while women with thyroid antibodies who do not harbor NKa/CTL do not require or benefit from such treatment

TEATMENT OF IID:

The mainstay of treatment involves the selective use of:

  • Intralipid (IL) infusion
  • IVIg therapy
  • Corticosteroids (Prednisone/dexamethasone)
  • Heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane)

Intralipid (IL) Therapy:  IL is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

Intralipid is a suspension of soybean lipid droplets in water and is primarily used as source of parenteral nutrition. When administered intravenously, IL provides essential fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid.     

It is thought that fatty acids within the emulsion serve as ligands that activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) expressed by the NK cells. This is believed to decrease NK cell cytotoxic activity, and thereby enhance implantation A growing number of IVF programs, including ours, perform egg retrieval under conscious sedation using Propofol, a short acting hypnotic agent.

            Whatever the exact mechanism of action might be, Intralipid acts primarily to suppress NK cell over-production of TH-I cytokines. It exerts a modulating effect on certain immune cellular mechanisms largely by down-regulating cytotoxic /activated natural killer cells (NKa). This effect is enhanced through the concomitant administration of corticosteroids such as dexamethasone, prednisolone and prednisone which augment immune modulation of T cells. The combined effect of IL + steroid therapy suppresses pro-inflammatory cellular TH1 cytokines such as interferon gamma and TNF-alpha that are produced in excess by activated NK cells and cytotoxic lymphocytes/T-cells (CTL).   IL will, in about 80% of cases, successfully down-regulate activated natural killer cells (NKa) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It is likely to be just as effective as IVIg in this respect but at a fraction of the cost and with a far lower incidence of side-effects. Its effect lasts for ~ 4-6 weeks when administered in early pregnancy.

            Can laboratory testing be used to assess for an immediate effect of IL on Nka suppression?  Since the downregulation of NKa through IL (or IVIg) therapy can take several weeks to become measurable, it follows that there is really no benefit in trying to assess the potential efficacy of such treatment by retesting NKa in the laboratory after adding IL (or IVIg) to the cells being tested.

IVIg Therapy:  Until about a decade ago, the only effective and available way (in the US) to down-regulate activated NK cells was through the intravenous administration of a blood product known as immunoglobulin-G (IVIg). The fear (albeit unfounded) that the administration of this product might lead to the transmission of viral infections such as HIV and hepatitis C, plus the high cost of IVIG along with the fact that significant side effects occurred about 20% of the time, led to bad press and bad publicity for the entire field of reproductive immunology. It was easier for RE’s to simply say “I don’t believe IVIg works” and thereby avoid risk and bad publicity. But the thousands of women who had babies because of NK cell activity being downregulated through its use, attests to IVIg’s efficacy. But those of us who felt morally obligated to many desperate patients who would not conceive without receiving IVIg were facing an uphill battle. The bad press caused by fear mongering took its toll and spawned a malicious controversy. It was only through the introduction of IL less (about 15-20 years ago ), that the tide began to turn in favor of those patients who required low cost, safe and effective immunotherapy to resolve their IID.

 Corticosteroid Therapy (e.g., Prednisone, and Dexamethasone): Corticosteroid therapy has become a mainstay in the treatment of most women undergoing IVF. It is believed by most to enhance implantation due to an overall immunomodulatory effect. Corticosteroids reduce TH-1 cytokine production by CTL. When given in combination with IL or IVIG they augment the implantation process. The prednisone or dexamethasone therapy must commence (along with IL/IVIg) 10-14 days prior to egg retrieval and continue until pregnancy is discounted or until the 10th week of pregnancy.

 Heparinoid Therapy: There is compelling evidence that the subcutaneous administration of low molecular heparin (Clexane, Lovenox) once daily, (starting with the onset of ovarian stimulation) can improve IVF birthrate in women who test positive for APAs and might prevent later pregnancy loss when used to treat certain thrombophilias (e.g., homozygous MTHFR mutation)

What About Baby Aspirin? In our opinion, aspirin has little (if any) value when it comes to IID, and besides, it could even reduce the chance of success. The reason for this is that aspirin thins the blood and increases the potential to bleed. This effect can last for up to a week and could complicate an egg retrieval procedure or result in “concealed” intrauterine bleeding at the time of embryo transfer, thereby potentially compromising IVF success.

TH-1 Cytokine Blockers (Enbrel, Humira): TH-1 cytokine blockers, (Enbrel and Humira) are in our opinion relatively ineffective in the IVF setting. There has to date been no convincing data to support their use. However, these blockers could have a role in the treatment of a threatened miscarriage thought to be due to CTL/NK activation, but not for IVF. The reason is that the very initial phase of implantation requires a cellular response involving TH-1 cytokines. To block them completely (rather than simply restore a TH-1:TH-2 balance as occurs with IL therapy) so very early on could compromise rather than benefit implantation.

Leukocyte Immunization Therapy (LIT): The subcutaneous injection of the male partner’s lymphocytes to the mother is thought to enhance the ability for the mother’s decidua (uterus) to recognize the DQ alpha matching embryo as “self” or “friend” and thereby avert its rejection. LIT has been shown to up-regulate Treg cells and thus down-regulate NK cell activation thereby improving decidual TH-1:TH-2 balance. Thus, there could be a therapeutic benefit from such therapy. However, the same benefit can be achieved through the use of IL plus corticosteroids. Besides, IL is much less expensive, and the use of LIT is prohibited by law in the U.S.A.

There are two categories of immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) linked to NK cell activation (NKa).

Autoimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, the woman will often have a personal or family history of autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus Erythematosus, and thyroid autoimmune activity (e.g., Hashimoto’s disease) etc. Autoimmune as well as in about one third of cases of endometriosis, regardless of severity.  Autoimmune sometimes also occurs in the absence of a personal or family history of autoimmune disease.

When it comes to treating  NKa in  IVF cases complicated by autoimmune implantation dysfunction,  the combination of daily oral dexamethasone commencing with the onset of ovarian stimulation and continuing until the 10th week of pregnancy, combined with an initial infusion of IL (100ml, 20% Il dissolved in 500cc of saline solution, 10-14  days prior to PGT-normal embryo transfer and repeated once more (only), as  soon as the blood pregnancy test is positive), the anticipated chance of a viable pregnancy occurring within 2 completed IVF attempts (including fresh + frozen ET’s)  in women under 39Y (who have normal ovarian reserve)  is approximately  65%.

Alloimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Here, NK cell activation results from uterine exposure to an embryo derived through fertilization by a spermatozoon that shares certain genotypic (HLA/DQ alpha) similarities with that of the embryo recipient.

Partial DQ alpha/HLA match:  Couples who upon genotyping are shown to share only one DQ alpha/HLA gene are labeled as having a “partial match”. The detection of a “partial match” in association with NKa puts the couple at a considerable disadvantage with regard to IVF outcome. It should be emphasized however, that in the absence of associated Nka, DQ alpha/HLA matching whether “partial” or “total (see below) will NOT cause an IID. Since we presently have no way of determining which embryo carries a matching paternal DQ alpha gene, it follows that each embryo transferred will have about half the chance of propagating a viable pregnancy. Treatment of a partial DQ alpha/HLA match (+ Nka) involves the same IL, infusion as for autoimmune-Nka with one important caveat, namely that here we prescribe oral prednisone as adjunct therapy (rather than dexamethasone) and the IL infusion is repeated every 2-4 weeks following the diagnosis of pregnancy and continued until the 24th week of gestation. Additionally, (as alluded to elsewhere) in such cases we transfer a single (1) embryo at a time. This is because, the likelihood is that one out of two embryos will “match” and we are fearful that if we transfer >1 embryo, and one transferred embryos “matches” it could cause further activation of uterine NK cells and so prejudice the implantation of all transferred embryos. Here it should be emphasized that if associated with Nka, a matching embryo will still be at risk of rejection even in the presence of Intralipid (or IVIg) therapy.

Total (complete) DQ alpha Match:   Here the husband’s DQ alpha genotype matches both of that of his partner’s. While this occurs very infrequently, a total alloimmune (DQ alpha) match with accompanying Nka, means that the chance of a viable pregnancy resulting in a live birth at term, is unfortunately greatly diminished.  Several instances in our experience have required the use of a gestational surrogate.

It is indeed unfortunate that so many patients are being denied the ability to go from “infertility to family” simply because (for whatever reason) so many reproductive specialists refuse to embrace the role of immunologic factors in the genesis of intractable reproductive dysfunction. Hopefully this will change, and the sooner the better.

______________________________________________________________________

I urge you to  visit my website at  www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

 

  • A Fresh Look at the Indications for IVF
  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • IVF and the use of Supplementary Human Growth Hormone (HGH) : Is it Worth Trying and who needs it?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • IVF: Approach to Selecting the Best Embryos for Transfer to the Uterus.
  • Fresh versus Frozen Embryo Transfers (FET) Enhance IVF Outcome
  • Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): A Rational Approach to Hormonal Preparation and How new Methodology is Impacting IVF.
  • Genetically Testing Embryos for IVF
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA): Is There an actual “There, There”?
  • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
  • Diagnosing and Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
  • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
  • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
  • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
  • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
  • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
  • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
  • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
  • A Thin Uterine Lining: Vaginal Viagra is Often the Answer (update)
  • Cervical Ureaplasma Urealyticum Infection: How can it Affect IUI/IVF Outcome?
  • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF
  • The Basic Infertility Work-Up
  • Defining and Addressing an Abnormal Luteal Phase
  • Male Factor Infertility
  • Routine Fertilization by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An Argument in Favor
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Hormonal Treatment of Male Infertility
  • Antisperm Antibodies, Infertility and the Role of IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)
  • Endometriosis and Infertily
  • Endometriosis and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) and IVF
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: Why IVF Rather than IUI or Surgery Should be the Treatment of Choice.
  • Endometriosis and Infertility: The Influence of Age and Severity on Treatment Options
  • Early -Endometriosis-related Infertility: Ovulation Induction (with or without Intrauterine Insemination) and Reproductive Surgery  Versus IVF
  • Deciding Between Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Who Needs it & who Does Not: Pro’s & Con’s!IUI-Reflecting upon its Use and Misuse: Time for a Serious “Reality Check
  • Mode of Action, Indications, Benefits, Limitations and Contraindications for its ue
  • Clomiphene Induction of Ovulation: Its Use and Misuse!

 

 

 

Name: Eliza T

November 22, 2022
Hello, I am on cycle day 12 and went for my bloodwork and ultrasound. My ultrasound showed a dominant follicle in the left measuring 24mm and my bloodwork was showing I was going to ovulate soon. My doctor instructed me to trigger. Is a 24 mm follicle pre-trigger too large/overripe? Does the follicle grow much… Read More »

Answer:

In my opinion, follicles of >22mm in mean diameter, are much less likely to house viable , ‘competent” eggs , post “trigger”. The ideal pre “trigger” measurement is 18-22mm.  And No, they should  not grow after the hCG “trigger”.. Either way, there is no harm giving it a shot!

Good luck!

Name: Masuma M

November 21, 2022
Hello, My husband and I have been trying to have a baby for 8 years now. We reside Alberta, Canada. We have attempted 5.5 IVF ICSI cycles. I am wondering if your clinic does the IVF procedures differently then in Canada? Is it worthwhile to use a different clinic, are the process and medications different?… Read More »

Answer:

You are only 34y of age, So when it comes to egg/embryo quality, regardless of your ovarian reserve, you should be able to do better. Your husbands sperm dysfunction could be contributing factor but in my opinion,  the protocol used for ovarian stimulation and its implementation is the most likely issue and it can profoundly impact egg/embryo quality…..I really think we should talk!!.

The importance of the IVF stimulation protocol on egg/embryo quality cannot be overstated. This factor seems often to be overlooked or discounted by t IVF practitioners who use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ovarian stimulation. My experience is that the use of individualized/customized COS protocols can greatly improve IVF outcome. While no one can influence underlying genetics or turn back the clock on a woman’s age, any competent IVF specialist should be able to tailor the protocol for COS to meet the individual needs of the patient.

Gonadotropins (LH and FSH), whether produced by the pituitary gland or administered by way of fertility drugs, have different “targeted” sites of action in the ovary. FSH targets cells that line the inner wall of the follicle (granulosa cells) and also form the cumulus cells that bind the egg to the inner surface of the follicle. Granulosa cells are responsible for estrogen production.

LH, on the other hand, targets the ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca) that surrounds ovarian follicles resulting in the production of male hormones such as testosterone (predominantly), androstenedione and DHEA. These androgens are then transported to the granulosa cells of the adjacent follicles in a “bucket brigade fashion”. There FSH converts testosterone to estradiol, causing granulosa cells to multiply (proliferate) and produce estradiol, follicles to  grows and eggs to develop (ovogenesis) It follows that  ovarian androgens (mainly testosterone) is absolutely indispensable to follicle/ egg growth and development.

However, the emphasis is on a “normal” amount of testosterone. Over-exposure of the follicle to testosterone can in my opinion,  compromise egg development and lead to an increased likelihood of chromosomal irregularities (aneuploid) following LH/hCG-induced egg maturational division (meiosis) and compromise embryo “competency/quality.

Ovarian androgens can also reach the uterine lining where they sometimes will compromise estrogen receptor -induced endometrial growth and development.

A significant percentage of  older women and those who have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) have increased LH activity is increased. Such women either over-produce LH and/or the LH produced is far more biologically active. Chronically increased LH activity leads to overgrowth of ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). This condition, which is often referred to as Stromal Hyperplasia or hyperthecosis can result in  excessive ovarian androgen/testosterone production and poorer egg-embryo quality/competency, Similarly, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also characteristically have Stromal hyperplasia/hyperthecosis due to chronically increased LH activity. Thus they too often manifest with increased ovarian androgen production. It is therefore not surprising that “poor egg/embryo quality” is often also a feature of PCOS.

In my opinion, the over-administration of LH-containing menotropins such as Menopur, [which is comprised of roughly equal amount of FSH and   hCG ,which acts similar to LH)], to older women, women with DOR and those who have PCOS can also lead to reduced egg/embryo competency . Similarly, drugs such as clomiphene or Letrozole that cause the pituitary gland to release excessive amounts of LH, are also potentially harmful to egg development and in my opinion, are best omitted from IVF COS protocols. This is especially the case when it comes to older women and those with DOR, who in my opinion should preferably be stimulated using FSH-dominant products such as Follistim, Puregon, Fostimon and Gonal-F. 

Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa): GnRHa such as Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact, Gonopeptyl etc. are often used to launch ovarian stimulation cycles. They act by causing an initial outpouring followed by a depletion of pituitary gonadotropins. This results in LH levels falling to low concentrations, within 4-7 days, thereby establishing a relatively “LH-free environment”. When GnRHa are administered for about 7 days prior to initiating gonadotropin stimulation (“long” pituitary down-regulation”), the LH depletion that will exist when COS is initiated, will usually be protective of subsequent egg development. In contrast, when the GnRHa administration commences along with the initiation of gonadotropin therapy, there will be a resultant immediate surge in the release of pituitary LH with  the potential to increase ovarian testosterone to egg-compromising levels , from the outset of COS. This, in my opinion could be particularly harmful when undertaken in older women and those who have DOR.

GnRH-antagonists such as Ganirelix, Cetrotide and Orgalutron, on the other hand, act very rapidly (within hours) to block pituitary LH release. The purpose in using GnRH antagonists is to prevent the release of LH during COS. In contrast, the LH-lowering effect of GnRH agonists develops over a number of days.

GnRH antagonists are traditionally given, starting after  5th -7th day of gonadotropin stimulation. However, when this is done in older women and those (regardless of age) who have DOR, LH-suppression might be reached too late to prevent the deleterious effect of excessive ovarian androgen production on egg development in the early stage of ovarian stimulation. This is why, it is my preference to administer GnRH-antagonists, starting at the initiation of gonadotropin administration.

Preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):

  • Long GnRH Agonist Protocols: The most prescribed protocol for agonist/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. An agonist (usually, Lupron) is given either in a natural cycle, starting 5-7 days prior to menstruation or is overlapped with the BCP for two days whereupon the latter is stopped and the Lupron, continued until menstruation ensues. The agonist precipitates a rapid rise in FSH and LH level, which is rapidly followed by a precipitous decline in the blood level of both, to near zero. This is followed by uterine withdrawal bleeding (menstruation) within 5-7 days of starting the agonist treatment, whereupon gonadotropin treatment is initiated (preferably within 7-10 days of the onset of menses) while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a relatively “low LH- environment”. Gonadotropin administration continues until the hCG trigger.
  • Short (“Flare”) GnRH-agonist (GnRHa) Protocol: Another GnRHa usage for COS is the so called “(micro) flare protocol”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy commensurate with initiation of gonadotropin administration. The supposed objective is to deliberately allow Lupron to elicit an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release in order to augment FSH administration by increased FSH production. Unfortunately, this “springboard effect” constitutes “a double-edged sword”. While it indeed increases the release of FSH, it at the same time causes a surge in LH release. The latter can evoke excessive ovarian stromal/thecal androgen production which could potentially compromise egg quality, especially when it comes to older women and women with DOR. I am of the opinion that by evoking an exaggerated ovarian androgen response, such “(micro) flare protocols” can harm egg/embryo quality and reduce IVF success rates, especially when it comes to COS in older women, and in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Accordingly, I do not prescribe such protocols to my IVF patients
  • Long-Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP):With a few (notable) exceptions I preferentially advocate this protocol for many of my patients. With the A/ACP, as with the long protocol (see above) the woman again prepares to launch her stimulation cycle by taking a BCP for at least ten days before overlapping with an agonist such as Lupron. However, when about 5-7 days later her menstruation starts, she supplants the agonist with a with 250 mcg) of an antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix, Orgalutron or Cetrotide). Within a few days of this switch-over, gonadotropin stimulation is commenced. Both the antagonist and the gonadotropins are then continued until the hCG trigger. The purpose in switching from agonist to antagonist is to intentionally allow only a very small amount of the woman’s own pituitary LH to enter her blood and reach her ovaries, while at the same time preventing a large amount of LH from reaching her ovaries. This is because while a small amount of LH is essential to promote and optimize FSH-induced follicular growth and egg maturation, a large concentration of LH can trigger over-production of ovarian stromal testosterone, with an adverse effect of follicle/egg/embryo quality. Moreover, since testosterone also down-regulates estrogen receptors in the endometrium, an excess of testosterone can also have an adverse effect on endometrial growth. Also, since agonists might suppress some ovarian response to the gonadotropin stimulation, antagonists do not do so. It is for this reason that the A/ACP is so well suited to older women and those with some degree of diminished ovarian reserve.
  • Agonist/antagonist conversion protocol with estrogen priming:Patients start their treatment cycle on a combined (monophasic) birth control pill-BCP (e.g., Marvelon, Desogen, Orthonovum 135; Low-Estrin…etc.)  for at least 8-10 days (depending on individual circumstances), before commencing controlled ovarian stimulation for IVF. With this approach, a GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron/Superfact/Buserelin/Decapeptyl etc.) is continued until menstruation ensues (usually 5-7 days after commencement of the GnRH-agonist). At this point, the GnRH-agonist is SUPPLANTED with 250mcg GnRH antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix/Cetrotide, Orgalutron) and daily estradiol(E2) “priming” commences using either E2 skin-patches or intramuscular estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) injections, twice weekly while continuing the administration of the GnRH antagonist. Seven (7) days after commencing the E2 skin patches or intramuscular Delestrogen, daily injections of recombinant FSH-(e.g., Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon)  + menotropin (e.g., Menopur)  therapy begins.. This is continued at a modified dosage, along with E2 patches or Delestrogen injections) until the “hCG trigger”. The egg retrieval is performed 36 hours later.

There are a few potential drawback to the use of the A/ACP. We have learned that prolonged use of a GnRH antagonist throughout the ovarian stimulation process can compromise the predictive value of serial plasma E2 measurements to evaluate follicle growth and development. It appears that when the antagonist is given throughout stimulation, the blood E2 levels tend to be significantly lower than when the agonist alone is used or where antagonist treatment is only commenced 5-7 days into the ovarian stimulation process. The reason for this is presently unclear. Accordingly, when the A/ACP is employed, we rely more on follicle size monitoring than on serial blood E2 trends to assess progress.

Also, younger women (under 30 years) and women with absent, irregular or dysfunctional ovulation, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome are at risk of developing life-threatening Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). The prediction of this condition requires daily access to accurate blood E2 levels. Accordingly, we currently tend to refrain from prescribing the A/ACP in such cases, preferring instead use the “standard long-protocol” approach.

  • Short-GnRH antagonist protocols:The use of GnRH antagonists as currently prescribed in ovarian stimulation cycles (i.e. the administration of 250mcg daily starting on the 6th or 7th day of stimulation with gonadotropins) may be problematic, especially in women over 39 yrs., women with diminished ovarian reserve (i.e. “poor responders” to gonadotropins), and women with PCOS. Such women tend to have higher levels of LH to start with and as such the initiation of LH suppression with GnRH antagonists so late in the cycle (usually on day 6-7) of stimulation fails to suppress LH early enough to avoid compromising egg development. This can adversely influence egg/embryo quality and endometrial development. As is the case with the “microflare” approach (see above) the use of GnRH antagonist protocols in younger women who have normal ovarian reserve, is acceptable. Again, for reasons of caution, and because I see no benefit in doing so, I personally never prescribe this approach for my patients. Presumably, the reason for the suggested mid-follicular initiation of high dose GnRH antagonist is to prevent the occurrence of the so called “premature LH surge”, which is known to be associated with “follicular exhaustion” and poor egg/embryo quality. However the term “premature LH surge” is a misnomer and the concept of this being a “terminal event” or an isolated insult is erroneous. In fact, the event is the culmination (end point) of the progressive escalation in LH (“a staircase effect”) which results in increasing ovarian stromal activation with commensurate growing androgen production. Trying to improve ovarian response and protect against follicular exhaustion by administering GnRH antagonists during the final few days of ovarian stimulation is like trying to prevent a shipwreck by removing the tip of an iceberg.
  • Short-GnRH-agonist (“micro-flare”) protocols:Another approach to COH is by way of so-called “microflare protocols”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy simultaneously with the administration of GnRH agonist. The intent is to deliberately allow Lupron to affect an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release to augment ovarian response to the gonadotropin medication. Unfortunately, this approach represents “a double-edged sword” as the resulting increased release of FSH is likely to be accompanied by a concomitant (excessive) rise in LH levels that could evoke excessive production of male hormone by the ovarian stroma. The latter in turn could potentially compromise egg quality, especially in women over 39 years of age, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – all of whose ovaries have increased sensitivity to LH. In this way, “microflare protocols” can potentially hinder egg/embryo development and reduce IVF success rates. While microflare protocols usually are not harmful in younger women and those with normal ovarian reserve, I personally avoid this approach altogether for safety’s sake. The follicles/eggs of women on GnRH-agonist “micro-flare protocols” can be exposed to exaggerated agonist-induced LH release, (the “flare effect”) while the follicles/eggs of women, who receive GnRH antagonists starting 6-8 days following the initiation of stimulation with gonadotropins can likewise be exposed to pituitary LH-induced ovarian male hormones (especially testosterone). While this is not necessarily problematic in younger women and those with adequate ovarian reserve (“normal responders”) it could be decidedly prejudicial in “poor responders” and older women where there is increased follicle and egg vulnerability to high local male hormone levels.
  • The “Trigger Shot”- A Critical Decision:The egg goes through maturational division (meiosis) during the 36-hour period that precedes ovulation or retrieval. The efficiency of this process will determine the outcome of reproduction. It follows that when it comes to ovulation induction, aside from selecting a suitable protocol for COS one of the most important decisions the clinician has to make involves choosing and implementing with logic and precision, the “trigger shot” by which to facilitate meiosis.
    • Urinary versus recombinant hCG:Until quite recently, the standard method used to initiate the “trigger shot” was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. More recently, a recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel) was introduced and marketed in 250 mcg doses. But clinical experience strongly suggests that 250 mcg of Ovidrel is most likely not equivalent in biological potency to 10,000 units of hCG. It probably at best only has 60%of the potency of a 10,000U dose of hCGu and as such might not be sufficient to fully promote meiosis, especially in cases where the woman has numerous follicles. For this reason, I firmly believe that when hCGr is selected as the “trigger shot” the dosage should be doubled to 500 mcg, at which dosage it will probably have an equivalent effect on promoting meiosis as would 10,000 units of hCGu.
    • The dosage of hCG used: Some clinicians, when faced with a risk of OHSS developing will deliberately elect to reduce the dosage of hCG administered as a trigger in the hope that by doing so, the risk of developing critical OHSS will be lowered. It is my opinion that such an approach is not optimal because a low dose of hCG (e.g., 5000 units hCGu or 25omcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis, particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. In my opinion a far better approach is to use a method that I first described in 1989, known as “prolonged coasting”
    • Use of hCG versus a GnRHa(e.g., Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact) as the trigger shot: It has been suggested that the use of an “agonist ( Lupron) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is for this reason that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis in this way (using an agonist-Lupron) rather than through the use of hCG. The agonist promptly causes the woman’s pituitary gland to expunge a large amount of LH over a short period of time and it is this LH “surge” that triggers meiosis. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland of a given patient receiving an agonist trigger shot, especially if the woman was down-regulated using an agonist, or in cases where an antagonist was used to block pituitary LH release. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation, with one important proviso…that she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “trigger”.
    • Combined use of hCG +GnRHa; This approach is preferable to the use of a GnRHa, alone. However, in my opinion is inferior to the appropriate and correct use of hCG, alone.
    • The timing of the trigger shot to initiate meiosis:This should coincide with the majority of ovarian follicles being >15 mm in mean diameter with several follicles having reached 18-22 mm. Follicles of larger than 22 mm will usually harbor overdeveloped eggs which in turn will usually fail to produce good quality eggs. Conversely, follicles less than 15 mm will usually harbor underdeveloped eggs that are more likely to be aneuploid and incompetent following the “trigger”.

Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) and prolonged Coasting”

OHSS is a life-endangering condition that usually occurs in women undergoing COS where the blood E2 level rises to above 4,000pg/ml. The risk escalates to greater than 80% in cases where the E2 level rises above 6,000pg/ml. It rarely occurs in normally ovulating women or older (>39Y) women and is more commonly encountered in:

  • Young women (under 30y) who have a high ovarian reserve(based upon basal FSH and AMH.
  • Women with polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Non-PCOS women who do not ovulate spontaneously

The treating physician should be alerted to the possibility of hyperstimulation when encountering a woman who develops >25 ovarian follicles of 14mm-16mm in mean diameter, in association with a blood E2 level of above 2,5000pg/ml prior to the hCG “trigger”.

OHSS is a self-limiting condition. Its development is linked to the effect of hCG and thus does not occur until the “hCG trigger” is administered. In fact, there is virtually no risk of OHSS until the hCG “trigger” is administered.

Prolonged Coasting” is a procedure I introduced in 1991. It involves abruptly stopping gonadotropin therapy while continuing to administer the GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin) deferring the hCG “trigger” until the woman is out of risk (as evidenced by a fall in plasma estradiol level to below 2,500pg/ml).

It is important that “prolonged coasting” be initiated as soon as two or more follicles have attained a greater diameter than 18mm with at least 50% of the remaining follicles having attained 14-16mm. To start the process of “prolonged coasting” any earlier or any later, while it would still protect against the development of OHSS, would almost certainly result in compromised egg and embryo quality with ultimate failure of the IVF cycle. Simply stated, the precise timing of initiating the process is critical. Proper implementation of PC will almost always prevent OHSS without seriously compromising egg/embryo quality.

Use of the Birth Control Pill (BCP) to launch IVF-COS.

In natural (unstimulated) as well as in cycles stimulated with fertility drugs, the ability of follicles to properly respond to FSH stimulation is dependent on their having developed FSH-responsive receptors. Pre-antral follicles (PAF) do not have such primed FSH receptors and thus cannot respond properly to FSH stimulation with gonadotropins. The acquisition of FSH receptor responsivity requires that the pre-antral follicles be exposed to FSH, for a number of days (5-7) during which time they attain “FSH-responsivity” and are now known as antral follicles (AF). These AF’s are now able to respond properly to stimulation with administered FSH-gonadotropins. In regular menstrual cycles, the rising FSH output from the pituitary gland insures that PAFs convert tor AF’s. The BCP (as well as prolonged administration of estrogen/progesterone) suppresses FSH. This suppression needs to be countered by artificially causing blood FSH levels to rise in order to cause PAF to AF conversion prior to COS commencing, otherwise pre-antral-to –antral follicle conversion will not take place in an orderly fashion, the duration of ovarian stimulation will be prolonged and both follicle and egg development may be compromised. GnRH agonists cause an immediate surge in release of FSH by the pituitary gland thus causing conversion from PAF to SAF. This is why women who take a BCP to launch a cycle of COS need to have an overlap of the BCP with an agonist. By overlapping the BCP with an agonist for a few days prior to menstruation the early recruited follicles are able to complete their developmental drive to the AF stage and as such, be ready to respond appropriately to optimal ovarian stimulation. Using this approach, the timing of the initiation of the IVF treatment cycle can readily and safely be regulated and controlled by varying the length of time that the woman is on the BCP.

Since optimizing follicular response to COS requires that prior to stimulation with gonadotropins, FSH-induced conversion from PAF to AF’s first be completed and the BCP suppresses FSH, it follows when it comes to women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days prior to menstruation heralding the cycle of CO S. This is where overlapping the BCP with a GnRHa comes in. The agonist causes FSH to be released by the pituitary gland and if overlapped with the BCP for several days and this will (within 2-5 days) facilitate PAF to AF conversion…. in time to start COS with the onset of menstruation. Initiating ovarian stimulation in women taking a BCP, without doing this is suboptimal.

I strongly recommend that you visit www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • The “Biological Clock” and how it should Influence the Selection and Design of Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF.
  • A Rational Basis for selecting Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) protocols in women with Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Diagnosing and Treating Infertility due to Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in Older women and Women who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): A Rational Basis for Selecting a Stimulation Protocol
  • Optimizing Response to Ovarian Stimulation in Women with Compromised Ovarian Response to Ovarian Stimulation: A Personal Approach.
  • Egg Maturation in IVF: How Egg “Immaturity”, “Post-maturity” and “Dysmaturity” Influence IVF Outcome:
  • Commonly Asked Question in IVF: “Why Did so Few of my Eggs Fertilize and, so Many Fail to Reach Blastocyst?”
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Staggered IVF: An Excellent Option When. Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Reduces IVF Success Rate
  • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • IVF outcome: How Does Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Affect Egg/Embryo “Competency” and How Should the Problem be addressed.

 

 

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ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!

INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)

Founded in April 2019, Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) offers online (Skype/FaceTime) consultations to patients from > 40 different countries. All consultations are followed by a detailed written report presenting my personal recommendations for treatment of what often constitute complex Reproductive Issues.

 

If you wish to schedule an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant (Patti Converse) by phone (800-780-7437/702-533-2691), email (concierge@SherIVF.com) or,  enroll online on then home-page of my website (www.SherIVF.com). 

 

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Name: Lauren M

November 21, 2022
Hi Dr. Sher, I’m 34 with history of 2 early losses last year and DOR (last AMH 1.49). I have around 16 antral follicles based on ultrasound. Just finished my first round of stims and only yielded 6 eggs. Only 1 was mature at retrieval and 4 matured overnight. The mature egg fertilized and is… Read More »

Answer:

You are only 34y of age and with your high AFC, I expect that you ave ample ovarian reserve. My hunch is that you poor response could have to do with the protocol used for ovarian stimulation and its implementation.I really think we should talk!!.

The importance of the IVF stimulation protocol on egg/embryo quality cannot be overstated. This factor seems often to be overlooked or discounted by t IVF practitioners who use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to ovarian stimulation. My experience is that the use of individualized/customized COS protocols can greatly improve IVF outcome. While no one can influence underlying genetics or turn back the clock on a woman’s age, any competent IVF specialist should be able to tailor the protocol for COS to meet the individual needs of the patient.

Gonadotropins (LH and FSH), whether produced by the pituitary gland or administered by way of fertility drugs, have different “targeted” sites of action in the ovary. FSH targets cells that line the inner wall of the follicle (granulosa cells) and also form the cumulus cells that bind the egg to the inner surface of the follicle. Granulosa cells are responsible for estrogen production.

LH, on the other hand, targets the ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca) that surrounds ovarian follicles resulting in the production of male hormones such as testosterone (predominantly), androstenedione and DHEA. These androgens are then transported to the granulosa cells of the adjacent follicles in a “bucket brigade fashion”. There FSH converts testosterone to estradiol, causing granulosa cells to multiply (proliferate) and produce estradiol, follicles to  grows and eggs to develop (ovogenesis) It follows that  ovarian androgens (mainly testosterone) is absolutely indispensable to follicle/ egg growth and development.

However, the emphasis is on a “normal” amount of testosterone. Over-exposure of the follicle to testosterone can in my opinion,  compromise egg development and lead to an increased likelihood of chromosomal irregularities (aneuploid) following LH/hCG-induced egg maturational division (meiosis) and compromise embryo “competency/quality.

Ovarian androgens can also reach the uterine lining where they sometimes will compromise estrogen receptor -induced endometrial growth and development.

A significant percentage of  older women and those who have diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) have increased LH activity is increased. Such women either over-produce LH and/or the LH produced is far more biologically active. Chronically increased LH activity leads to overgrowth of ovarian connective tissue (stroma/theca). This condition, which is often referred to as Stromal Hyperplasia or hyperthecosis can result in  excessive ovarian androgen/testosterone production and poorer egg-embryo quality/competency, Similarly, women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), also characteristically have Stromal hyperplasia/hyperthecosis due to chronically increased LH activity. Thus they too often manifest with increased ovarian androgen production. It is therefore not surprising that “poor egg/embryo quality” is often also a feature of PCOS.

In my opinion, the over-administration of LH-containing menotropins such as Menopur, [which is comprised of roughly equal amount of FSH and   hCG ,which acts similar to LH)], to older women, women with DOR and those who have PCOS can also lead to reduced egg/embryo competency . Similarly, drugs such as clomiphene or Letrozole that cause the pituitary gland to release excessive amounts of LH, are also potentially harmful to egg development and in my opinion, are best omitted from IVF COS protocols. This is especially the case when it comes to older women and those with DOR, who in my opinion should preferably be stimulated using FSH-dominant products such as Follistim, Puregon, Fostimon and Gonal-F. 

Gonadotropin releasing hormone agonists (GnRHa): GnRHa such as Lupron, Buserelin, Superfact, Gonopeptyl etc. are often used to launch ovarian stimulation cycles. They act by causing an initial outpouring followed by a depletion of pituitary gonadotropins. This results in LH levels falling to low concentrations, within 4-7 days, thereby establishing a relatively “LH-free environment”. When GnRHa are administered for about 7 days prior to initiating gonadotropin stimulation (“long” pituitary down-regulation”), the LH depletion that will exist when COS is initiated, will usually be protective of subsequent egg development. In contrast, when the GnRHa administration commences along with the initiation of gonadotropin therapy, there will be a resultant immediate surge in the release of pituitary LH with  the potential to increase ovarian testosterone to egg-compromising levels , from the outset of COS. This, in my opinion could be particularly harmful when undertaken in older women and those who have DOR.

GnRH-antagonists such as Ganirelix, Cetrotide and Orgalutron, on the other hand, act very rapidly (within hours) to block pituitary LH release. The purpose in using GnRH antagonists is to prevent the release of LH during COS. In contrast, the LH-lowering effect of GnRH agonists develops over a number of days.

GnRH antagonists are traditionally given, starting after  5th -7th day of gonadotropin stimulation. However, when this is done in older women and those (regardless of age) who have DOR, LH-suppression might be reached too late to prevent the deleterious effect of excessive ovarian androgen production on egg development in the early stage of ovarian stimulation. This is why, it is my preference to administer GnRH-antagonists, starting at the initiation of gonadotropin administration.

Preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):

  • Long GnRH Agonist Protocols: The most prescribed protocol for agonist/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. An agonist (usually, Lupron) is given either in a natural cycle, starting 5-7 days prior to menstruation or is overlapped with the BCP for two days whereupon the latter is stopped and the Lupron, continued until menstruation ensues. The agonist precipitates a rapid rise in FSH and LH level, which is rapidly followed by a precipitous decline in the blood level of both, to near zero. This is followed by uterine withdrawal bleeding (menstruation) within 5-7 days of starting the agonist treatment, whereupon gonadotropin treatment is initiated (preferably within 7-10 days of the onset of menses) while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a relatively “low LH- environment”. Gonadotropin administration continues until the hCG trigger.
  • Short (“Flare”) GnRH-agonist (GnRHa) Protocol: Another GnRHa usage for COS is the so called “(micro) flare protocol”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy commensurate with initiation of gonadotropin administration. The supposed objective is to deliberately allow Lupron to elicit an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release in order to augment FSH administration by increased FSH production. Unfortunately, this “springboard effect” constitutes “a double-edged sword”. While it indeed increases the release of FSH, it at the same time causes a surge in LH release. The latter can evoke excessive ovarian stromal/thecal androgen production which could potentially compromise egg quality, especially when it comes to older women and women with DOR. I am of the opinion that by evoking an exaggerated ovarian androgen response, such “(micro) flare protocols” can harm egg/embryo quality and reduce IVF success rates, especially when it comes to COS in older women, and in women with diminished ovarian reserve. Accordingly, I do not prescribe such protocols to my IVF patients
  • Long-Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP):With a few (notable) exceptions I preferentially advocate this protocol for many of my patients. With the A/ACP, as with the long protocol (see above) the woman again prepares to launch her stimulation cycle by taking a BCP for at least ten days before overlapping with an agonist such as Lupron. However, when about 5-7 days later her menstruation starts, she supplants the agonist with a with 250 mcg) of an antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix, Orgalutron or Cetrotide). Within a few days of this switch-over, gonadotropin stimulation is commenced. Both the antagonist and the gonadotropins are then continued until the hCG trigger. The purpose in switching from agonist to antagonist is to intentionally allow only a very small amount of the woman’s own pituitary LH to enter her blood and reach her ovaries, while at the same time preventing a large amount of LH from reaching her ovaries. This is because while a small amount of LH is essential to promote and optimize FSH-induced follicular growth and egg maturation, a large concentration of LH can trigger over-production of ovarian stromal testosterone, with an adverse effect of follicle/egg/embryo quality. Moreover, since testosterone also down-regulates estrogen receptors in the endometrium, an excess of testosterone can also have an adverse effect on endometrial growth. Also, since agonists might suppress some ovarian response to the gonadotropin stimulation, antagonists do not do so. It is for this reason that the A/ACP is so well suited to older women and those with some degree of diminished ovarian reserve.
  • Agonist/antagonist conversion protocol with estrogen priming:Patients start their treatment cycle on a combined (monophasic) birth control pill-BCP (e.g., Marvelon, Desogen, Orthonovum 135; Low-Estrin…etc.)  for at least 8-10 days (depending on individual circumstances), before commencing controlled ovarian stimulation for IVF. With this approach, a GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron/Superfact/Buserelin/Decapeptyl etc.) is continued until menstruation ensues (usually 5-7 days after commencement of the GnRH-agonist). At this point, the GnRH-agonist is SUPPLANTED with 250mcg GnRH antagonist (e.g. Ganirelix/Cetrotide, Orgalutron) and daily estradiol(E2) “priming” commences using either E2 skin-patches or intramuscular estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) injections, twice weekly while continuing the administration of the GnRH antagonist. Seven (7) days after commencing the E2 skin patches or intramuscular Delestrogen, daily injections of recombinant FSH-(e.g., Follistim/Gonal-F/Puregon)  + menotropin (e.g., Menopur)  therapy begins.. This is continued at a modified dosage, along with E2 patches or Delestrogen injections) until the “hCG trigger”. The egg retrieval is performed 36 hours later.

There are a few potential drawback to the use of the A/ACP. We have learned that prolonged use of a GnRH antagonist throughout the ovarian stimulation process can compromise the predictive value of serial plasma E2 measurements to evaluate follicle growth and development. It appears that when the antagonist is given throughout stimulation, the blood E2 levels tend to be significantly lower than when the agonist alone is used or where antagonist treatment is only commenced 5-7 days into the ovarian stimulation process. The reason for this is presently unclear. Accordingly, when the A/ACP is employed, we rely more on follicle size monitoring than on serial blood E2 trends to assess progress.

Also, younger women (under 30 years) and women with absent, irregular or dysfunctional ovulation, and those with polycystic ovarian syndrome are at risk of developing life-threatening Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). The prediction of this condition requires daily access to accurate blood E2 levels. Accordingly, we currently tend to refrain from prescribing the A/ACP in such cases, preferring instead use the “standard long-protocol” approach.

  • Short-GnRH antagonist protocols:The use of GnRH antagonists as currently prescribed in ovarian stimulation cycles (i.e. the administration of 250mcg daily starting on the 6th or 7th day of stimulation with gonadotropins) may be problematic, especially in women over 39 yrs., women with diminished ovarian reserve (i.e. “poor responders” to gonadotropins), and women with PCOS. Such women tend to have higher levels of LH to start with and as such the initiation of LH suppression with GnRH antagonists so late in the cycle (usually on day 6-7) of stimulation fails to suppress LH early enough to avoid compromising egg development. This can adversely influence egg/embryo quality and endometrial development. As is the case with the “microflare” approach (see above) the use of GnRH antagonist protocols in younger women who have normal ovarian reserve, is acceptable. Again, for reasons of caution, and because I see no benefit in doing so, I personally never prescribe this approach for my patients. Presumably, the reason for the suggested mid-follicular initiation of high dose GnRH antagonist is to prevent the occurrence of the so called “premature LH surge”, which is known to be associated with “follicular exhaustion” and poor egg/embryo quality. However the term “premature LH surge” is a misnomer and the concept of this being a “terminal event” or an isolated insult is erroneous. In fact, the event is the culmination (end point) of the progressive escalation in LH (“a staircase effect”) which results in increasing ovarian stromal activation with commensurate growing androgen production. Trying to improve ovarian response and protect against follicular exhaustion by administering GnRH antagonists during the final few days of ovarian stimulation is like trying to prevent a shipwreck by removing the tip of an iceberg.
  • Short-GnRH-agonist (“micro-flare”) protocols:Another approach to COH is by way of so-called “microflare protocols”. This involves initiating gonadotropin therapy simultaneously with the administration of GnRH agonist. The intent is to deliberately allow Lupron to affect an initial surge (“flare”) in pituitary FSH release to augment ovarian response to the gonadotropin medication. Unfortunately, this approach represents “a double-edged sword” as the resulting increased release of FSH is likely to be accompanied by a concomitant (excessive) rise in LH levels that could evoke excessive production of male hormone by the ovarian stroma. The latter in turn could potentially compromise egg quality, especially in women over 39 years of age, women with diminished ovarian reserve, and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – all of whose ovaries have increased sensitivity to LH. In this way, “microflare protocols” can potentially hinder egg/embryo development and reduce IVF success rates. While microflare protocols usually are not harmful in younger women and those with normal ovarian reserve, I personally avoid this approach altogether for safety’s sake. The follicles/eggs of women on GnRH-agonist “micro-flare protocols” can be exposed to exaggerated agonist-induced LH release, (the “flare effect”) while the follicles/eggs of women, who receive GnRH antagonists starting 6-8 days following the initiation of stimulation with gonadotropins can likewise be exposed to pituitary LH-induced ovarian male hormones (especially testosterone). While this is not necessarily problematic in younger women and those with adequate ovarian reserve (“normal responders”) it could be decidedly prejudicial in “poor responders” and older women where there is increased follicle and egg vulnerability to high local male hormone levels.
  • The “Trigger Shot”- A Critical Decision:The egg goes through maturational division (meiosis) during the 36-hour period that precedes ovulation or retrieval. The efficiency of this process will determine the outcome of reproduction. It follows that when it comes to ovulation induction, aside from selecting a suitable protocol for COS one of the most important decisions the clinician has to make involves choosing and implementing with logic and precision, the “trigger shot” by which to facilitate meiosis.
    • Urinary versus recombinant hCG:Until quite recently, the standard method used to initiate the “trigger shot” was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. More recently, a recombinant form of hCGr (Ovidrel) was introduced and marketed in 250 mcg doses. But clinical experience strongly suggests that 250 mcg of Ovidrel is most likely not equivalent in biological potency to 10,000 units of hCG. It probably at best only has 60%of the potency of a 10,000U dose of hCGu and as such might not be sufficient to fully promote meiosis, especially in cases where the woman has numerous follicles. For this reason, I firmly believe that when hCGr is selected as the “trigger shot” the dosage should be doubled to 500 mcg, at which dosage it will probably have an equivalent effect on promoting meiosis as would 10,000 units of hCGu.
    • The dosage of hCG used: Some clinicians, when faced with a risk of OHSS developing will deliberately elect to reduce the dosage of hCG administered as a trigger in the hope that by doing so, the risk of developing critical OHSS will be lowered. It is my opinion that such an approach is not optimal because a low dose of hCG (e.g., 5000 units hCGu or 25omcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis, particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. In my opinion a far better approach is to use a method that I first described in 1989, known as “prolonged coasting”
    • Use of hCG versus a GnRHa(e.g., Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact) as the trigger shot: It has been suggested that the use of an “agonist ( Lupron) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is for this reason that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis in this way (using an agonist-Lupron) rather than through the use of hCG. The agonist promptly causes the woman’s pituitary gland to expunge a large amount of LH over a short period of time and it is this LH “surge” that triggers meiosis. The problem with this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland of a given patient receiving an agonist trigger shot, especially if the woman was down-regulated using an agonist, or in cases where an antagonist was used to block pituitary LH release. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation, with one important proviso…that she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “trigger”.
    • Combined use of hCG +GnRHa; This approach is preferable to the use of a GnRHa, alone. However, in my opinion is inferior to the appropriate and correct use of hCG, alone.
    • The timing of the trigger shot to initiate meiosis:This should coincide with the majority of ovarian follicles being >15 mm in mean diameter with several follicles having reached 18-22 mm. Follicles of larger than 22 mm will usually harbor overdeveloped eggs which in turn will usually fail to produce good quality eggs. Conversely, follicles less than 15 mm will usually harbor underdeveloped eggs that are more likely to be aneuploid and incompetent following the “trigger”.

Severe Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) and prolonged Coasting”

OHSS is a life-endangering condition that usually occurs in women undergoing COS where the blood E2 level rises to above 4,000pg/ml. The risk escalates to greater than 80% in cases where the E2 level rises above 6,000pg/ml. It rarely occurs in normally ovulating women or older (>39Y) women and is more commonly encountered in:

  • Young women (under 30y) who have a high ovarian reserve(based upon basal FSH and AMH.
  • Women with polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Non-PCOS women who do not ovulate spontaneously

The treating physician should be alerted to the possibility of hyperstimulation when encountering a woman who develops >25 ovarian follicles of 14mm-16mm in mean diameter, in association with a blood E2 level of above 2,5000pg/ml prior to the hCG “trigger”.

OHSS is a self-limiting condition. Its development is linked to the effect of hCG and thus does not occur until the “hCG trigger” is administered. In fact, there is virtually no risk of OHSS until the hCG “trigger” is administered.

Prolonged Coasting” is a procedure I introduced in 1991. It involves abruptly stopping gonadotropin therapy while continuing to administer the GnRH agonist (e.g. Lupron, Buserelin) deferring the hCG “trigger” until the woman is out of risk (as evidenced by a fall in plasma estradiol level to below 2,500pg/ml).

It is important that “prolonged coasting” be initiated as soon as two or more follicles have attained a greater diameter than 18mm with at least 50% of the remaining follicles having attained 14-16mm. To start the process of “prolonged coasting” any earlier or any later, while it would still protect against the development of OHSS, would almost certainly result in compromised egg and embryo quality with ultimate failure of the IVF cycle. Simply stated, the precise timing of initiating the process is critical. Proper implementation of PC will almost always prevent OHSS without seriously compromising egg/embryo quality.

Use of the Birth Control Pill (BCP) to launch IVF-COS.

In natural (unstimulated) as well as in cycles stimulated with fertility drugs, the ability of follicles to properly respond to FSH stimulation is dependent on their having developed FSH-responsive receptors. Pre-antral follicles (PAF) do not have such primed FSH receptors and thus cannot respond properly to FSH stimulation with gonadotropins. The acquisition of FSH receptor responsivity requires that the pre-antral follicles be exposed to FSH, for a number of days (5-7) during which time they attain “FSH-responsivity” and are now known as antral follicles (AF). These AF’s are now able to respond properly to stimulation with administered FSH-gonadotropins. In regular menstrual cycles, the rising FSH output from the pituitary gland insures that PAFs convert tor AF’s. The BCP (as well as prolonged administration of estrogen/progesterone) suppresses FSH. This suppression needs to be countered by artificially causing blood FSH levels to rise in order to cause PAF to AF conversion prior to COS commencing, otherwise pre-antral-to –antral follicle conversion will not take place in an orderly fashion, the duration of ovarian stimulation will be prolonged and both follicle and egg development may be compromised. GnRH agonists cause an immediate surge in release of FSH by the pituitary gland thus causing conversion from PAF to SAF. This is why women who take a BCP to launch a cycle of COS need to have an overlap of the BCP with an agonist. By overlapping the BCP with an agonist for a few days prior to menstruation the early recruited follicles are able to complete their developmental drive to the AF stage and as such, be ready to respond appropriately to optimal ovarian stimulation. Using this approach, the timing of the initiation of the IVF treatment cycle can readily and safely be regulated and controlled by varying the length of time that the woman is on the BCP.

Since optimizing follicular response to COS requires that prior to stimulation with gonadotropins, FSH-induced conversion from PAF to AF’s first be completed and the BCP suppresses FSH, it follows when it comes to women launching COS coming off a BCP something needs to be done to cause a rise in FSH for 5-7 days prior to menstruation heralding the cycle of CO S. This is where overlapping the BCP with a GnRHa comes in. The agonist causes FSH to be released by the pituitary gland and if overlapped with the BCP for several days and this will (within 2-5 days) facilitate PAF to AF conversion…. in time to start COS with the onset of menstruation. Initiating ovarian stimulation in women taking a BCP, without doing this is suboptimal.

I strongly recommend that you visit www.SherIVF.com. Then go to my Blog and access the “search bar”. Type in the titles of any/all of the articles listed below, one by one. “Click” and you will immediately be taken to those you select.  Please also take the time to post any questions or comments with the full expectation that I will (as always) respond promptly.

  • The IVF Journey: The importance of “Planning the Trip” Before Taking the Ride”
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) for IVF: Selecting the ideal protocol
  • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
  • Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
  • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
  • The “Biological Clock” and how it should Influence the Selection and Design of Ovarian Stimulation Protocols for IVF.
  • A Rational Basis for selecting Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) protocols in women with Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Diagnosing and Treating Infertility due to Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR)
  • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
  • Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in Older women and Women who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): A Rational Basis for Selecting a Stimulation Protocol
  • Optimizing Response to Ovarian Stimulation in Women with Compromised Ovarian Response to Ovarian Stimulation: A Personal Approach.
  • Egg Maturation in IVF: How Egg “Immaturity”, “Post-maturity” and “Dysmaturity” Influence IVF Outcome:
  • Commonly Asked Question in IVF: “Why Did so Few of my Eggs Fertilize and, so Many Fail to Reach Blastocyst?”
  • Human Growth Hormone Administration in IVF: Does it Enhances Egg/Embryo Quality and Outcome?
  • The BCP: Does Launching a Cycle of Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS). Coming off the BCP Compromise Response?
  • Staggered IVF
  • Staggered IVF with PGS- Selection of “Competent” Embryos Greatly Enhances the Utility & Efficiency of IVF.
  • Staggered IVF: An Excellent Option When. Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Reduces IVF Success Rate
  • Embryo Banking/Stockpiling: Slows the “Biological Clock” and offers a Selective Alternative to IVF-Egg Donation
  • Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGS) in IVF: It should be Used Selectively and NOT be Routine.
  • IVF: Selecting the Best Quality Embryos to Transfer
  • Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS) Using: Next Generation Gene Sequencing (NGS): Method of Choice.
  • PGS in IVF: Are Some Chromosomally abnormal Embryos Capable of Resulting in Normal Babies and Being Wrongly Discarded?
  • PGS and Assessment of Egg/Embryo “competency”: How Method, Timing and Methodology Could Affect Reliability
  • IVF outcome: How Does Advancing Age and Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR) Affect Egg/Embryo “Competency” and How Should the Problem be addressed.

 

 

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ADDENDUM: PLEASE READ!!

INTRODUCING SHER FERTILITY SOLUTIONS (SFS)

Founded in April 2019, Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) offers online (Skype/FaceTime) consultations to patients from > 40 different countries. All consultations are followed by a detailed written report presenting my personal recommendations for treatment of what often constitute complex Reproductive Issues.

 

If you wish to schedule an online consultation with me, please contact my assistant (Patti Converse) by phone (800-780-7437/702-533-2691), email (concierge@SherIVF.com) or,  enroll online on then home-page of my website (www.SherIVF.com). 

 

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT SFS!

 

Geoff Sher