Start: April 2020
End: April 2022
Why do we need this research?
Couples who can’t get pregnant naturally can opt for in vitro fertilisation (IVF), where the egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body. However, we know that IVF pregnancies have a higher chance of complications, including stillbirth and death shortly after birth.
We need to understand why this is the case, and what can be done to reduce the risks for babies conceived by IVF.
What’s happening in this project?
After IVF, embryos can either be transferred ‘fresh’ into the mother’s womb, or frozen first and transferred later. Researchers have noticed that babies from frozen IVF embryos tend to grow faster during pregnancy compared to babies from fresh IVF embryos. However, it is not clear why.
A lot of pregnancy complications are caused by problems with the placenta. This has led our researchers to believe there might be differences in the placentas of babies born from ‘fresh’ IVF embryos versus those from frozen embryos. Our scientists will test this theory in this project.
The team will study the placentas of babies born following IVF treatment – some after fresh embryo transfer and others after the embryos are frozen. They will be looking at the weight and size of the placenta, as well as studying the cells and blood vessels inside it. The team will also be asking the mothers for blood samples throughout pregnancy, to look for hormones in the blood which are related to how blood vessels and the placenta develop.
What difference will this project make?
This project will help us to understand why IVF pregnancies have a higher risk of complications. Freezing IVF embryos could become a standard part of IVF treatment and help to prevent pregnancy complications, stillbirth and miscarriage.
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Tommy's funds research across the UK investigating the reasons for pregnancy complications and loss.
More research projects
A recently published article, co-authored by Professor Catherine Williamson from Tommy’s Research Centre at King’s College London, suggests that certain pregnancy complications can indicate future health issues for women.
Tommy’s has received a grant from the UK Government’s Department for Health and Social Care to support the costs of its PregnancyHub information and support services throughout the summer, due to rising demand in the wake of coronavirus.
Although recruitment to some clinical trials had to be paused when coronavirus hit the UK, scientists at Tommy’s Research Centres across the UK are still hard at work, supporting women and families in our specialist clinics and sharing their latest studies with academic journals.
The day before Mother’s Day, and two days before the UK officially went into coronavirus lockdown, Zara Dawson found out she was having a miscarriage. Her third consecutive miscarriage in less than a year, and fourth consecutive loss, after losing her second son Jesse in 2018 to termination for medical reasons.