Ethnicity can affect IVF success rates



The Unknown Factor

Ethnicity can affect IVF success rates

For many couples who struggle with infertility, artificial reproductive techniques (ART) like In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) are their only options in the hopes of conception and starting a family of their own. However, if you are considering IVF, it is important for you to learn about IVF success factors that can either boost or hinder your chances at pregnancy.


The main factors that may impact IVF success are age, especially of the mother; a history of previous pregnancies or miscarriage with the same or different partner; the type of fertility problem; lifestyle habits; the use of donor eggs and the fertility clinic chosen. However, several studies have contributed another factor for IVF success – a woman’s ethnicity.


In an observational cohort study conducted by the Nottingham University Research and Treatment Unit in Reproduction (NURTURE), UK, it was found that live birth rates following IVF treatment was significantly lower in Asian and Black women, as compared with white European women.

The study involved 1517 women, of which 1291 were white Europeans and 226 belonged to ethnic minorities. All these women underwent their first cycle of assisted reproductive technology between 2006 and 2011.

Despite sharing favourable chances of conceiving, such as the quality of their egg reserves, only 35% of Asian and Black women successfully conceived and gave birth after IVF, as compared with 44% of white women who were treated at the same clinic during that period.

The researchers at NURTURE are unsure why this is, but suggest that it could be down to genetics, as well as social and environmental factors. According to lead researcher, Dr Walid Maalouf, “Further research into genetic background as a potential determinant of IVF outcome, as well as the influencing effects of lifestyle and cultural factors on reproductive outcomes is needed.”

NURTURE’s findings are supported by a research conducted at the University of Kansas-Wichita, USA. The researchers there state that while the average birth rate after IVF using fresh eggs is 25.7%, this figure conceals the wide variation in the success rates for different ethnic groups.

After studying the records of more than 80,000 IVF treatment cycles carried out between 1999 and 2000, they found that the birth rate for black women was 18.7%, 20.7% for Asian women, 26.3% for white women and 26.7% for Hispanic women. They also learnt that black women had the highest miscarriage rate of 22%, compared to 13.9% for white women, 16.4% for Hispanic and 16.2% for Asian women.


Another US study, by researchers at the University of California, confirmed that Asian women had a lower pregnancy rate than non-Asians. The study looked at 1,200 IVF treatment cycles and found that the birth rate for Japanese, Indian and Chinese patients is about 60 per cent that of white women. However, the team stressed that the differences did not apply to natural conception.

Like the NURTURE team, the US teams are unsure of the reasons for these differences. According to Marion Damewoood, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), “The findings were preliminary but important, and we need to further explore these apparent racial differences to see if we can better understand and hopefully address their causes.”

While Asian couples may find these results worrying, it is crucial for all couples to be counselled on their realistic probabilities for IVF success. Based on these findings, Asian women are encouraged to seek treatment earlier to improve their chances of pregnancy.


MELODY FM 十方斌管 – 斌纷一家 (12月17日) 不孕须知的事项




MELODY FM 十方斌管 – 斌纷一家 (12月18日) 不孕须知的事项




Unexplained Subfertility


Woman in tears

Like most Fertility Specialist, we faced patients with all kinds of fertility problems everyday. One of the most unique group of patients would be those who are categorised as unexplained subfertility.


It is the most frustrating & awful diagnosis for the patients. These patients are generally well but frustrated. The label of unexplained subfertility is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that these patients had gone through most of the tests for subfertility and all the tests came back with normal results, but yet they are not able to get pregnant naturally.


In general, up to 10-25% of couples will not find any causes for their subfertility after going through fertility testing. This diagnosis can be frustrating as many of them would wonder: why is it they have not achieved a pregnancy given that all the test results had been normal?


The important thing to note is that even though all the tests are normal, it does not mean that there are no factors that prohibit them from having a baby naturally.


It is important to note that most of the fertility tests are mainly simple fertility tests. These tests do not necessarily assess function.


For example, despite showing both of your Fallopian tubes are patent through a dye test (hysterosalpingography, HSG) or a diagnostic laparoscopy, it does not necessary translate that the Fallopian tubes function are good and it does not necessarily ensure normal transport of eggs and sperm in the Fallopian tubes as there has not been a valid test for this. We know that Fallopian tubes were lined with multiple fine hairs (cilia) within the tubes, and the function of these fine hairs is to transport the eggs and sperms to meet at the most suitable place to encourage fertilisation. The cells in the Fallopian tubes also produce secretions to encourage the process of fertilization. Although the Fallopian tubes were patent, if these functions of the Fallopian tubes were poor, fertilization fails to occur. Unfortunately, there are still no tests for these conditions.


There are also conditions whereby there are poor quality of eggs or poor functionality of the sperms which attributes to this diagnosis. As Fertility Specialists, we can visualized the number of eggs you have and measure the hormones which governs egg productions. However, there is no valid test to check the quality of the eggs until the day one goes through an IVF (in-vitro Fertilization) where the doctors and the embryologists would be able to examine the eggs under microscope. Therefore, apart from being a treatment, IVF can be a diagnostic tool in its own right.


The same principle applies to the functionality of the sperms. During semen analysis, we can see the number, the activity, speed and shapes of the sperms. However, there is no test to check whether the sperms can fertilize eggs until the day we perform an IVF using these sperms. Again, IVF becomes a diagnostic test in this scenario.


If you had been diagnosed with unexplained subfertility, my advice to you would be not to leave it for ‘nature to take its course’. There maybe other underlying conditions whereby the current fertility tests available are unable to address the issues or to diagnosed the condition. It is important to put things into perspective and move on with Fertility Treatment.