Acupuncture and IVF: Does it Improve Success?

Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin along so called meridians (energy channels). It has been used in China for centuries to regulate and treat many health disorders including ailments involving the female reproductive system.

When I visited China back in 1987, I actually witnessed a Cesarean birth being performed without sedation, pain killers or anesthesia… using only acupuncture.  The mother lay there relaxed, conversing with the surgeon and nurses while the surgery was being performed.  It was truly quite amazing. So, I need no convincing that this complimentary treatment actually works when used for the right indications.

There has been a growing fascination and interest in the “mystical” power of acupuncture and other forms of Chinese medicine  over the last few decades. It should therefore come as no surprise that such treatments have also been used to try to enhance fertility potential and improve  IVF outcome.

So,……does acupuncture actually  improve IVF outcome?  Well, those who support its use as a complementary treatment for IVF claim that it works by improving  blood flow to the woman’s reproductive organs and thereby can  improve follicle  development , egg quality and embryo implantation. But what are the true facts in this regard? Does acupuncture actually enhance reproductive blood flow as has been asserted and if so, does treatment actually improve results?   Well, what we do know, based on ultrasound studies, is that acupuncture can indeed enhance uterine blood flow. But convincing evidence that it improves ovarian blood flow is lacking. 

A few years ago, it was reported that  that acupuncture administered around the time of embryo transfer  improves embryo implantation potential and thus IVF success.  However, Its use during stimulation with fertility drugs has not yielded evidence that it improves ovarian follicle growth, egg quality or endometrial thickening. .

In all fairness… the use of  acupuncture in IVF remains controversial. However, it is definitely not harmful and most women so treated, swear by it.  So, for the nay-sayers, what can be said with certainty is that at the very least acupuncture has a “feel good” aspect  to it and, evokes a psychological benefit that should not be discounted.

In conclusion…..We do offer SFS patients access to in-house/onsite acupuncture. But we only recommend that it be administered surrounding the time of embryo transfer, preferably on the prior, the day of or the day following embryo transfer. However, we caution them intensively not to have exaggerated expectations regarding the role that this complementary therapy might play in enhancing IVF outcome.

7 Comments

Anette

Hi Dr Sher,

I wanted to ask if you have seen similar and what would you do differently to be successful. I have amh of 5.94. Prior reason for infertility was Male factor due to low morphology. I have not underlying conditions. I have had 2 IVF cycles.
1st cycle-
dual trigger lupron with 5000 unit of Pregnyl
225 Gonal & 75 Menopur
total eggs retrieved: 22
8 injected
1 spontaneously combusted (I kdon’tnow the correct term that their description)
3 ended up fertilized and frozen at day 3: 2/5, 2/5, 2/6 embryos
Transferred two and unsuccessful & Decided to do another retrieval.
2nd Cycle
Single Trigger Lupron
Gonal 150 & menopur 75
later increased to 225 gonal and 75 menopur.
Total eggs retrieved: 23
ended up with 3 fertilized and they stopped growing at 5 cells and 3 cells on day 3. total mature were 9 mature.
The doctor thinks it is the eggs and that I didn’t have enough mature eggs for the sperm and the rest of my lab work shows no issues with me like PCOS, endo, or low amh. I am 36 years old and no prior pregnancies or surgeries. My husband had his DNA frag done in March and all markers were normal except the oxidative stress was borderline on the normal side, so the doctor was not concerned since his numbers were all really good but morphology is still at 1%. I am and have been taking coq10 and all the vitamins needed for egg quality issues. I just started keto because I am willing to do give up sweets and carbs just at a chance for a baby. Mind you my BMI is 23. Ive also been doing acupuncture twice a week since July. what would you suggest?

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I need much more information to comment authoritatively,, but this sounds to me like a stimulation issue. 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.
My preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):
1. “Long” GnRHa (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact/Gonopeptyl) Pituitary Down-regulation Protocol: The most commonly prescribed protocol for GnRHa/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. Here, GnRHa is given, starting a week or so prior to menstruation. This results in an initial rise in FSH and LH , which is rapidly followed by a precipitous fall to near zero. It is followed by a withdrawal bleed (menstruation), whereupon gonadotropin treatment should commence, while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a “low LH” environment. A modification to the “long protocol” which I prefer prescribing for older women and in cases of DOR, is the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP) where, upon the onset of a GnRHa-induced bleed, the agonist is supplanted by an antagonist (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) and this is continued until the hCG trigger. In many such cases I often supplement with human growth hormone (HGH) in such cases in an attempt to enhance egg mitochondrial activity and so enhance egg development. This approach is often augmented with preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
2. Short (“Flare”) 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 “spring board 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.
3. Estrogen Priming – This is the approach I sometimes prescribe for my patients who have virtually depleted ovarian reserve , as determined by very low blood anti-Mullerian hormone AMH levels (<0.2ng/ml or 2 pmol/L) and are thus likely to be very “poor responders”. It involves a modified A/ACP. We start with estrogen skin patches applied every 2nd day (or with the BCP) for 10 days or longer, overlap it for 3 days with a GnRHa whereupon the estrogen priming is stopped. Th GnRHa is continued until the onset of menstruation (usually 5-7 days later) to cause pituitary LH, down-regulation. Upon menstruation and confirmation by ultrasound and measurement of blood estradiol levels that adequate ovarian suppression has been achieved, The patient is given twice-weekly injections of estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) for a period of 7-8 days whereupon COS is initiated using a relatively high dosage FSH-(Follistim, Fostimon, Puregon or Gonal F), which is continued along with daily administration of GnRH antagonist until the “hCG “trigger.” This approach is often augmented with HGH administration throughout the process of COS and by preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
Estrogen Priming has succeeded in significantly enhancing ovarian response to gonadotropins in many of otherwise very poor responders.
Triggering egg Maturation prior to egg Retrieval: hCG versus GnRHa
With ovulation induction using fertility drugs, the administration of 10,000U hCGu (Pregnyl; Profasi, Novarel) or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel) “trigger”) sends the eggs (into maturational division (meiosis). This process is designed to halve the chromosome number, resulting in mature eggs (M2) that will have 23 chromosomes rather that the 46 chromosomes they had prior to the “trigger”. Such a chromosomally numerically normal (euploid), mature (MII) eggs, upon being fertilized will (hopefully) propagate euploid embryos that have 46 chromosomes and will be “: competent” to propagate viable pregnancies. In my opinion, the key is to always “trigger” with no less than 10,000U of hCGu or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel). Any lesser dosage often will reduce the efficiency of meiosis and increase the risk of the eggs being aneuploid. I personally do not use the agonist (Lupron) “trigger”, unless it is combined with (low dosage) hCG. The supposed reason for using the agonist, (Lupron) “trigger” is that by inducing meiosis through compelling a surge in the release of LH by the pituitary gland, the risk it reduces the risk of OHSS. This may be true, but it comes at the expense of egg quality because the extent of the induced LH surge varies and if too little LH is released, meiosis can be compromised, thereby increasing the likelihood of aneuploid and immature (MI) eggs. And there are other better approaches to preventing OHSS (e.g. “prolonged coasting”), in my opinion.
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

reply
Nicole

Hi Dr Sher,

I am 31 years old, my partner is 33 and we have been dealing with infertility over a year. We’ve had many tests done, including Receptiva and Sperm DNA fragmentation, everything so far has looked “normal”. My AMH last checked was around 2.8. We had 3 failed IUI’s using Letrozole twice and Clomid once.

I just had an egg retrieval that produced 0 blasts. I had 17 mature eggs retrieved, 15 fertilized, 12 were looking great and high quality at day 3, and then they either stopped growing or regressed, leaving us with NO day 5 blasts. We did PICSI for fertilization, so my doctor suggested it could be an issue with egg quality.

My protocol included estrogen patch priming, then Dexamethasone + 2 vials Menopur (150 IU) + 150 Gonal-F. The Gonal-F was dialed down to 100, then 87.5, Cetrotide was added on, and then we used a Lupron trigger.

Everything looked great, except my doctor mentioned that my estrogen looked high in the beginning. He said I responded very well to the medications right away and that he wants to try another cycle where we reduce the medication doses, and reverse the order. He thinks the medication might have actually hindered my egg quality. He also has me on CoQ10 and a fertility / Mediterranean diet, which I was already doing (I am at a healthy weight and very active already). He said he would NOT include things like DHEA, Omnitrope, or Myo-inositol.

I don’t feel very confident moving forward. I still feel confused and shocked we had no blasts, and am worried we won’t see better success next time. Do you have any thoughts or advice? Thank you!

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I am not a fan of the Lupron “trigger”. Here is why!

Ideal egg development sets the scene for optimal egg maturation that occurs 36-42h prior to ovulation or egg retrieval. Without prior optimal egg development (ovogenesis), egg maturation will be dysfunctional and most eggs will be rendered “incompetent” and unable upon fertilization to propagate viable embryos. In IVF, optimal ovogenesis requires the selection and implementation of an individualized approach to controlled ovaria stimulation (COS). Thereupon, at the ideal time, maturational division of the egg’s chromosomes (i.e. meiosis) is “triggered” through the administration of hCG or an agonist such as Lupron, which induces an LH surge. The, dosage and timing of the “trigger shot” profoundly affects the efficiency of meiosis, the potential to yield “competent (euploid) mature (M2) eggs, and as such represents a rate limiting step in the IVF process .

“Triggering meiosis with Urine-derived hCG (Pregnyl/Profasi/Novarel) versus recombinant hCG (Ovidrel): Until quite recently, the standard method used to “trigger” egg maturation was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. Subsequently,, a DNA 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 only has 50%-70%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 best 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. Failure to “trigger” with 10,000U hCGu or 500mcg hCGr, will in my opinion increase the likelihood of disorderly meiosis, “incompetent (aneuploid) eggs” and the risk of follicles not yielding eggs at egg retrieval (“empty follicles”). Having said this, it is my personal opinion that it is unnecessary to supplant hCGu with hCGr since the latter is considerably more expensive and is probably no more biopotent than the latter.

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 critical OHSS developing 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 250mcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. It has been suggested that the preferential use of an “agonist (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact; decapeptyl) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is with this in mind that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis by way of an “agonist (Lupron) trigger 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 using this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation hyperstimulated, with one important proviso…that being that is she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS, prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “ trigger”.

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”.

The most important application of the IVF art-science blend concept is best appreciated when applied to the selection and implementation of protocols for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS):
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.
My preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):
1. “Long” GnRHa (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact/Gonopeptyl) Pituitary Down-regulation Protocol: The most commonly prescribed protocol for GnRHa/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. Here, GnRHa is given, starting a week or so prior to menstruation. This results in an initial rise in FSH and LH , which is rapidly followed by a precipitous fall to near zero. It is followed by a withdrawal bleed (menstruation), whereupon gonadotropin treatment should commence, while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a “low LH” environment. A modification to the “long protocol” which I prefer prescribing for older women and in cases of DOR, is the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP) where, upon the onset of a GnRHa-induced bleed, the agonist is supplanted by an antagonist (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) and this is continued until the hCG trigger. In many such cases I often supplement with human growth hormone (HGH) in such cases in an attempt to enhance egg mitochondrial activity and so enhance egg development. This approach is often augmented with preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
2. Short (“Flare”) 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 “spring board 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.
3. Estrogen Priming – This is the approach I sometimes prescribe for my patients who have virtually depleted ovarian reserve , as determined by very low blood anti-Mullerian hormone AMH levels (<0.2ng/ml or 2 pmol/L) and are thus likely to be very “poor responders”. It involves a modified A/ACP. We start with estrogen skin patches applied every 2nd day (or with the BCP) for 10 days or longer, overlap it for 3 days with a GnRHa whereupon the estrogen priming is stopped. Th GnRHa is continued until the onset of menstruation (usually 5-7 days later) to cause pituitary LH, down-regulation. Upon menstruation and confirmation by ultrasound and measurement of blood estradiol levels that adequate ovarian suppression has been achieved, The patient is given twice-weekly injections of estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) for a period of 7-8 days whereupon COS is initiated using a relatively high dosage FSH-(Follistim, Fostimon, Puregon or Gonal F), which is continued along with daily administration of GnRH antagonist until the “hCG “trigger.” This approach is often augmented with HGH administration throughout the process of COS and by preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
Estrogen Priming has succeeded in significantly enhancing ovarian response to gonadotropins in many of otherwise very poor responders.
Triggering egg Maturation prior to egg Retrieval: hCG versus GnRHa
With ovulation induction using fertility drugs, the administration of 10,000U hCGu (Pregnyl; Profasi, Novarel) or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel) “trigger”) sends the eggs (into maturational division (meiosis). This process is designed to halve the chromosome number, resulting in mature eggs (M2) that will have 23 chromosomes rather that the 46 chromosomes they had prior to the “trigger”. Such a chromosomally numerically normal (euploid), mature (MII) eggs, upon being fertilized will (hopefully) propagate euploid embryos that have 46 chromosomes and will be “: competent” to propagate viable pregnancies. In my opinion, the key is to always “trigger” with no less than 10,000U of hCGu or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel). Any lesser dosage often will reduce the efficiency of meiosis and increase the risk of the eggs being aneuploid. I personally do not use the agonist (Lupron) “trigger”, unless it is combined with (low dosage) hCG. The supposed reason for using the agonist, (Lupron) “trigger” is that by inducing meiosis through compelling a surge in the release of LH by the pituitary gland, the risk it reduces the risk of OHSS. This may be true, but it comes at the expense of egg quality because the extent of the induced LH surge varies and if too little LH is released, meiosis can be compromised, thereby increasing the likelihood of aneuploid and immature (MI) eggs. And there are other better approaches to preventing OHSS (e.g. “prolonged coasting”), in my opinion.
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.

______________________________________________________
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

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

I am not a fan of the Lupron “trigger”. Here is why!

Ideal egg development sets the scene for optimal egg maturation that occurs 36-42h prior to ovulation or egg retrieval. Without prior optimal egg development (ovogenesis), egg maturation will be dysfunctional and most eggs will be rendered “incompetent” and unable upon fertilization to propagate viable embryos. In IVF, optimal ovogenesis requires the selection and implementation of an individualized approach to controlled ovaria stimulation (COS). Thereupon, at the ideal time, maturational division of the egg’s chromosomes (i.e. meiosis) is “triggered” through the administration of hCG or an agonist such as Lupron, which induces an LH surge. The, dosage and timing of the “trigger shot” profoundly affects the efficiency of meiosis, the potential to yield “competent (euploid) mature (M2) eggs, and as such represents a rate limiting step in the IVF process .

“Triggering meiosis with Urine-derived hCG (Pregnyl/Profasi/Novarel) versus recombinant hCG (Ovidrel): Until quite recently, the standard method used to “trigger” egg maturation was through the administration of 10,000 units of hCGu. Subsequently,, a DNA 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 only has 50%-70%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 best 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. Failure to “trigger” with 10,000U hCGu or 500mcg hCGr, will in my opinion increase the likelihood of disorderly meiosis, “incompetent (aneuploid) eggs” and the risk of follicles not yielding eggs at egg retrieval (“empty follicles”). Having said this, it is my personal opinion that it is unnecessary to supplant hCGu with hCGr since the latter is considerably more expensive and is probably no more biopotent than the latter.

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 critical OHSS developing 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 250mcg hCGr) is likely inadequate to optimize the efficiency of meiosis particularly when it comes to cases such as this where there are numerous follicles. It has been suggested that the preferential use of an “agonist (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact; decapeptyl) trigger” in women at risk of developing severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome could potentially reduce the risk of the condition becoming critical and thereby placing the woman at risk of developing life-endangering complications. It is with this in mind that many RE’s prefer to trigger meiosis by way of an “agonist (Lupron) trigger 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 using this approach, in my opinion, is that it is hard to predict how much LH will be released in by the pituitary gland. For this reason, I personally prefer to use hCGu for the trigger, even in cases of ovarian hyperstimulation hyperstimulated, with one important proviso…that being that is she underwent “prolonged coasting” in order to reduce the risk of critical OHSS, prior to the 10,000 unit hCGu “ trigger”.

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”.

The most important application of the IVF art-science blend concept is best appreciated when applied to the selection and implementation of protocols for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS):
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.
My preferred Protocols for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS):
1. “Long” GnRHa (Lupron/Buserelin/Superfact/Gonopeptyl) Pituitary Down-regulation Protocol: The most commonly prescribed protocol for GnRHa/gonadotropin administration is the so-called “long protocol”. Here, GnRHa is given, starting a week or so prior to menstruation. This results in an initial rise in FSH and LH , which is rapidly followed by a precipitous fall to near zero. It is followed by a withdrawal bleed (menstruation), whereupon gonadotropin treatment should commence, while daily Lupron injections continue, to ensure a “low LH” environment. A modification to the “long protocol” which I prefer prescribing for older women and in cases of DOR, is the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol (A/ACP) where, upon the onset of a GnRHa-induced bleed, the agonist is supplanted by an antagonist (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) and this is continued until the hCG trigger. In many such cases I often supplement with human growth hormone (HGH) in such cases in an attempt to enhance egg mitochondrial activity and so enhance egg development. This approach is often augmented with preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
2. Short (“Flare”) 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 “spring board 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.
3. Estrogen Priming – This is the approach I sometimes prescribe for my patients who have virtually depleted ovarian reserve , as determined by very low blood anti-Mullerian hormone AMH levels (<0.2ng/ml or 2 pmol/L) and are thus likely to be very “poor responders”. It involves a modified A/ACP. We start with estrogen skin patches applied every 2nd day (or with the BCP) for 10 days or longer, overlap it for 3 days with a GnRHa whereupon the estrogen priming is stopped. Th GnRHa is continued until the onset of menstruation (usually 5-7 days later) to cause pituitary LH, down-regulation. Upon menstruation and confirmation by ultrasound and measurement of blood estradiol levels that adequate ovarian suppression has been achieved, The patient is given twice-weekly injections of estradiol valerate (Delestrogen) for a period of 7-8 days whereupon COS is initiated using a relatively high dosage FSH-(Follistim, Fostimon, Puregon or Gonal F), which is continued along with daily administration of GnRH antagonist until the “hCG “trigger.” This approach is often augmented with HGH administration throughout the process of COS and by preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) of all embryos that reach the expanded blastocyst stage of development by day 5-6 post-fertilization. I also commonly recommend blastocyst banking to many such patients.
Estrogen Priming has succeeded in significantly enhancing ovarian response to gonadotropins in many of otherwise very poor responders.
Triggering egg Maturation prior to egg Retrieval: hCG versus GnRHa
With ovulation induction using fertility drugs, the administration of 10,000U hCGu (Pregnyl; Profasi, Novarel) or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel) “trigger”) sends the eggs (into maturational division (meiosis). This process is designed to halve the chromosome number, resulting in mature eggs (M2) that will have 23 chromosomes rather that the 46 chromosomes they had prior to the “trigger”. Such a chromosomally numerically normal (euploid), mature (MII) eggs, upon being fertilized will (hopefully) propagate euploid embryos that have 46 chromosomes and will be “: competent” to propagate viable pregnancies. In my opinion, the key is to always “trigger” with no less than 10,000U of hCGu or 500mcg hCGr (Ovidrel/Ovitrel). Any lesser dosage often will reduce the efficiency of meiosis and increase the risk of the eggs being aneuploid. I personally do not use the agonist (Lupron) “trigger”, unless it is combined with (low dosage) hCG. The supposed reason for using the agonist, (Lupron) “trigger” is that by inducing meiosis through compelling a surge in the release of LH by the pituitary gland, the risk it reduces the risk of OHSS. This may be true, but it comes at the expense of egg quality because the extent of the induced LH surge varies and if too little LH is released, meiosis can be compromised, thereby increasing the likelihood of aneuploid and immature (MI) eggs. And there are other better approaches to preventing OHSS (e.g. “prolonged coasting”), in my opinion.
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.

______________________________________________________
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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Lorin

Hi Dr. Sher. I am very intrigued with the new option of EZ-IVF you recently posted about! My husband and I have never actually been diagnosed as infertile but since I’m 38 and we would ideally like to have 2 children we are interested in banking as many viable embryos as possible (over I assume several retrieval cycles) and then doing FET soon after for baby #1 and when we’re ready a few years later doing it again for baby #2. We live in Washington, DC and haven’t yet officially moved forward with anything (other than testing) because I’m still in the midst of trying to figure out all my options, which unfortunately, has a lot to do with finances. My testing looks positive overall, including AMH at 2.24. Just today I happen to come across your website and video about EZ-IVF. I read about mini and NC-IVF previously (which are both popular choices at one of the clinics near me in Virginia) but it didn’t make much sense to me as to why anyone would want to do either of those. But EZ-IVF seems to actually make sense! My big questions is whether or not you have considered doing it for embryo banking. I realize if I do a cycle of IVF I may have extra viable embryos but I’m also concerned that it will only be a small number or viable embryos and if I do end up getting pregnant that still only gives me a small chance of getting pregnant later with baby #2 and if I run out of those embryos for baby #2 then I’m either at a loss or I have to do the retrieval all over again. In addition, if at all possible I’d very much like to have 2 girls so I know that may limit my total number of embryos even more. Does any of this make sense? Is EZ-IVF (as embryo banking) something I should consider? If I would need to consider traveling costs would it end up being more cost efficient compared to doing embryo banking and FET at a clinic in the DC Metro area? Thank you in advance for any advice you may have. I really appreciate your insights.

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Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Eighty percent (80%) + of my patients travel to me for treatment at SFS-NY. 60% come from 45 different countries outside the US. It is very convenient and relatively affordable.

I suggest you call my assistant, Patti Converse at 702-533-2691 and set up an online consultation with me to discuss substantively.

EZ-IVF: AN IMPROVED , LOW-COST, LOW-STIMULATION, SUCCESSFUL ALTERNATIVE T0 MINI-IVF AND NATURAL CYCLE-IVF

Geoffrey Sher MD & Drew Tortoriello MD

Mini-IVF is a procedure that involves ovarian stimulation with oral fertility drugs such as clomiphene or letrozole to promote the development of follicles, for egg extraction. This is on the pretext that Mini-IVF, involves the administration of oral low-dosage medication, cuts down on cost, reduces the need for intensive monitoring and is highly successful.
Natural-cycle (NC)- IVF is an extension of the same concept. It relies on the development of follicles during natural ovulatory cycles, sufficient to permit extraction of one (and sometimes more) eggs, while completely avoiding the need for any of fertility drugs,
EZ-IVF: Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS)-NY is proud to announce the introduction of EZ-IVF, a low-cost, low risk, and highly successful alternative to Mini/NC-IVF . EZ-IVF is well suited to women under 40Y of age who have adequate ovarian reserve (AMH=>1.5ng/ml or > 10pmol/L). The process involves the use of very low dosage gonadotropin stimulation (administered every other day), thereby virtually eliminating the risk of complications. The process also requires minimal monitoring. It does all this at virtually the same low cost as Mini-IVF while offering a much higher potential for success and a greater likelihood that there will be left-over embryos for cryopreservation with a view to later use.

With regard to the argument given that both Mini and NC-IVF will yield comparable success rates to “conventional IVF”, please consider the following:

1. Use of fewer drugs translates into lower cost. This would be true, were it not for the fact that success rates with mini-IVF across the board are much lower than with conventional ovarian stimulation. More important is the fact that the cost of IVF should be expressed in terms of “the cost of having a baby” rather than “cost per cycle of treatment”. When this is taken into account the cost associated with mini-IVF will be significantly higher than conventional IVF. Then there is the additional emotional cost associated with a much higher IVF failure rate with mini-IVF.
2. Absent or milder stimulation using oral agents such as clomiphene, letrozole reduces stress on the ovaries and overall risk associated with IVF. This argument, while perhaps having some merit when applied to mini-IVF conducted in younger women who usually have normal ovarian reserve, does not hold water when it comes to older women and those with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR).. Furthermore, there is good body of evidence to show that both clomiphene and letrozole increase the release of LH-by the pituitary gland which so increases ovarian testosterone as to potentially further compromise egg development and maturation. .
3. Women with DOR will respond better to “milder stimulation” and egg quality will so be enhanced. This assertion is totally flawed. It is like saying that applying less force to a heavier object will increase the likelihood of moving it”. That is simply not how FSH stimulates follicle development.
4. Mini-IVF is less technology driven, less stressful and easier to execute. There is some merit to this assertion although all IVF cycles require careful monitoring and the same involvement of the embryology laboratory.

There can be little doubt that aside from a woman’s age, the method used for ovarian stimulation represents the most important determinant of egg/embryo quality and thus of IVF outcome. There is no single stimulation protocol that is suitable for all IVF patients. It must be individualized…. especially when it comes to women who, regardless of their age have DOR and for women over >35y of age for whom the use of clomiphene for ovarian stimulation is not optimal.

So, what about younger women with normal or increased ovarian reserve? If mini-IVF has any role at all, it could be in such cases. I do not not advocate aggressively stimulating the ovaries of younger women who have normal or increased ovarian reserve (as assessed by basal FSH& AMH) simply to try and access more eggs. In fact, such an approach is neither safe nor acceptable. In such women it is often wiser to use lower dosage stimulation to try and prevent the development of severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) which aside from putting the woman at severe risk , can also compromise egg/embryo quality. This is where EZ-IVF comes in! For the reasons state above, it offers a rational alternative to “conventional” IVF as well las to Mini-IVF and NC-IVF.

I invite you to contact us at Sher Fertility Solutions (SFS) if you are interested in learning more about this exciting development, called EZ-IVF.

PH: 702-533-2691
G-d bless!

Geoff Sher

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