Kiran Gadela, Co-founder and Managing Director, Oasis Fertility talks about innovation & technologies in IVF sector in India
Rising lifestyle issues and the hustle and bustle of everyday life have taken a great toll on health, especially affecting young men and women’s fertility potential. It is actually ironic to know that in a country as populous as India, millions suffer from infertility. With the Indian population demographic of more than 65% of people being under 35, infertility is a much bigger challenge than what is being currently estimated.
Infertility is not discussed in the family as it is considered taboo even today. A 2015 Ernst and Young report estimated that 27.5 million couples in India want to have children but are unable to do so naturally. Infertility is often seen as a woman’s issue, although, in recent times, more and more people are being educated to understand that infertility can occur in both females and males at an equal percentage. However, low awareness toward ART and IVF, as well as the inability of Indians to move past considering this a ‘taboo’ topic, hinders the timely intervention needed for couples fulfilling their dream of parenthood.
Fertility treatment is a relatively new specialty branch in medical sciences and is fortunate not to have the burden of history in terms of the scientific approach for treating couples.
Technological advancements and increased research in this sector could further create new opportunities for the IVF services market over the next 8-10 years.
Male infertility-The unserved need:
Male infertility is one of the least talked about problems in reproductive space in India due to cultural issues and the associated taboo in bringing it into conversations.
To address the size of this problem, there is an unmet need for Andrologists, the specialists who deal with issues related to male reproductive health. The men seeking diagnosis and treatments are not even aware of such specialty and by and large, majority of them consult sexologists or urologists. There is also another downside – where there is plenty of untested and non-evidence-based information and products available online, which can be counter-productive in terms of improving the reproductive health of males.
One of the main aspects to be addressed in male infertility is the sperm quality and advanced procedures like Micro-TESE, MACS, etc. that help in increasing the success rate of IVF. While many undergo testicular sperm extraction or aspiration, Micro-TESE is an advanced surgical procedure by which sperms are directly retrieved from the testis in men suffering from a condition called Cryptozoospermia that refers to low sperm count. This procedure helps these men to have their own biological child without depending on donor programs. A handful of IVF centres and specialists offer Micro-TESE and the need for this innovative surgical procedure is in focus.
MACS is another technique where healthy sperms can be separated from semen. Some sperms may have a problem in shape and motility. Through this technique, abnormal sperms can be removed and only healthy sperms can be selected that will improve the chances of IVF success.
Other advanced techniques-Embryo analysis and improved success rates:
ERA (Endometrial Receptive Array) is a new and advanced technique that helps to find out the right time of implantation of the embryo. The receptivity of the uterus in women can be analyzed before implantation through ERA. Clinical expertise and state-of-the-art labs are necessary to carry out hi-tech procedures like ERA. The penetration of these advanced treatments to Tier II and Tier III cities is very crucial for better conceiving rates.
PGT(Pre-implantation Genetic Testing) is used to detect any chromosomal abnormality in the embryo which can help in ruling out the possibility of transmission of a genetic disorder from parent to child. This procedure is usually advised for couples who are above 35 years of age undergoing IVF, and those who had consecutive miscarriages, and also males with severe male factor infertility.
Social freezing -A new age sector in reproductive health:
Fertility reduces with age, especially in women. Many couples postpone their parenthood journey for several reasons including education goals, career, and other commitments. Social freezing can help such couples to become parents at their desired time in the future as their sperms, eggs or embryos can be retrieved when the couples are young and stored for future use. Awareness about various factors that affect one’s fertility and knowledge about advanced fertility treatments that can help in having a biological child is the need of the hour.
Use of tech for workflow management in IVF:
IVF as a treatment is a series of chronological steps spanning over a short period of time with interdependent variables. A good fertility clinic having institutionalized practices can ideally leverage proven technologies in IVF workflow management, for defining the protocols and implementing these workflows with precision thereby improving the success rates for couples. The key point is that it is less of innovation, but diligent use of technology for processes and operational excellence that will make a difference and provide seamless service delivery.
Future tech in IVF-AI for image processing and decision support systems:
AI in fertility treatment is growing at an exponential pace, and has all-round applications, starting with predicting the fertility potential and success rate of IVF treatments. This needs deep data science and intelligence to understand various clinical parameters and making meaningful inferences from it.
The other area where solutions are being developed is the use of high-resolution image processing technologies to read and decipher embryo images to predict the right grading and quality of embryos that can maximize the success of pregnancy. A similar logic of facial recognition via high-resolution images can be implemented in the IVF embryo culture process.
With the rapid advancements in technology, a collaboration of medical professionals, embryologists, and tech professionals can bring about simple and effective outcomes in the space of reproductive medicine. The agility and capability of IVF centres to adopt these technologies will give them the edge, and put them in good stead to provide evidence-based service delivery for the couples seeking infertility treatment.