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The new IVF technique giving hope to women trying to have a baby

By Merryn Porter |

IVF is an emotionally and financially draining experience, with no guarantee of success.

Sydney's Kelly Pitt almost gave up her dream of having a baby before her doctor suggested trying a relatively new IVF technique.

Now Pitt is the proud mum of three-month-old Jaxon, and is full of praise for the fertility specialist who helped make her dreams come true.

While IVF success rates vary depending on many things, including patient age and underlying conditions, a large number of people walk away without a baby.

READ MORE: Why women are spending thousands to freeze their eggs

Kelly Pitt was close to giving up her dreams of becoming a mum before welcoming Jaxon earlier this year. (Supplied)

But now one of Australia's leading IVF clinics claims a relatively new technique is improving success rates for patients.

PIEZO-ICSI is a form of fertility treatment based off a previously used technique known as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).

During ICSI, a single sperm is injected into an egg to assist fertilisation.

READ MORE: Why Matildas icon kept her IVF journey a secret

While conventional ICSI involves cutting the egg's membrane before injecting the sperm inside, PIEZO-ICSI uses a machine to produce high-speed vibrations to penetrate the egg.

Dr Jinny Foo of Monash IVF Parramatta has been studying the effectiveness of a new technique.. (Supplied)

Monash IVF brought the ?Japanese-developed technique to Australia in 2019 and has since conducted studies that it says found PIEZO-ICSI resulted in higher fertilisation rates and less damage to fragile eggs.

The new research by Monash IVF found the so-called 'soft-touch' technique resulted in a fertilisation rate of 71.6 per cent, compared with 65.6 per cent for standard ICSI.

Monash IVF Parramatta fertility specialist and researcher Dr Jinny Foo said a recent trial involved 108 patients from NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

READ MORE: Famous Aussie mum opens up about postnatal anxiety?

"A patient was only recruited to the trial if they had more than six eggs," she said.

"Half of the patient's eggs were fertilised using standard ICSI while for the other half PIEZO-ICSI was used."

A Monash IVF image of an egg being fertilised using the gentler PIEZO-ICSI technique. (Supplied)

Since then, Dr Foo has been using the treatment in her practice for specially-selected patients, including Kelly Pitt.

Pitt first went to see Dr Foo in 2020 to discuss egg freezing.

"I had always wanted to be a mum but had never met that special person," she said. "I just thought I am a strong, independent person. Let's do it."

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After fertility testing showed she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and was not ovulating, Pitt, then in her early 30s, decided to have a baby on her own.

She accessed donor sperm and went on fertility drugs to promote ovulation before undergoing intrauterine insemination (IUI), in which sperm is inserted in the uterus.

She fell pregnant on the second attempt, however she suffered a miscarriage at about eight weeks. A third attempt at IUI failed.

Kelly Pitt got pregnant with Jaxon after a three-year struggle. (Supplied)

She then underwent one round of IVF, but after falling pregnant, she miscarried at five weeks.

"I was completely and utterly devastated," Pitt said. "I thought 'Why is this happening to me? Am I ever going to get my dream?'"

Emotionally and financially depleted, Pitt took a year's break from treatment and thought about giving up completely, before deciding to give it one last shot.

"Dr Foo mentioned there was this new way of ?doing IVF and thought I would be a good candidate," Pitt said.

Feeling she was running out of time, she agreed.

She underwent another round of IVF in May 2023 which saw 10 eggs collected, of which eight were fertilised using the new technique after she was granted special access to the scheme by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Baby Jaxon was conceived using a new IVF technique called PIEZO-ICSI. (Supplied)

One embryo was transferred and after an agonising two-week wait, Pitt learned she was pregnant.

She gave birth to a baby boy on ?February 26 this year, with Dr Foo, who was also her obstetrician, there to deliver Jaxon.

"I cannot even put the emotions into words," Pitt said. "I get teary just thinking about it.

"I don't think there was a dry eye in the room when he was born."

Dr Foo agreed. "For me, I found it very emotional and fulfilling. It's that journey from when she first walked in that door of my office to delivering her baby.

"To see an embryo become a baby is everything to me."?

Dr Foo said the PIEZO-ICSI technique was not for everybody, but would benefit a select group of patients.

Kelly Pitt with baby Jaxon. (Supplied)

"We have to use ICSI whenever we are using frozen eggs, because the freezing process removes the cells from around the egg that are required for fertilisation," Dr Foo said.

"Frozen eggs are also more fragile anyway, and some women, especially those with PCOS, have more fragile eggs.

"We would also suggest PIEZO-ICSI ?where there have been past failures of IVF or there are signs of egg degeneration or only a small number of eggs."

Monash IVF's research, which was published in Fertility and Sterility, found half as many eggs were damaged during fertilisation when using PIEZO-ICSI, while the quality of embryos was also higher.

"During traditional ICSI, we have to break the membrane of the egg's cell then inject the sperm in using a sharp needle, which can damage the fragile egg," Dr Foo said.

"I cannot even put the emotions into words. I get teary thinking about it." (Supplied)

"With ?PIEZO-ICSI, scientists in the lab who have undergone specialised training use a machine to make the sperm vibrate through the membrane into the egg itself.

"While pregnancy and birth rates are similar for both forms of ICSI, our research has found the 'soft touch' technique can potentially reduce the number of rounds of IVF a woman needs to conceive.

"We now have strong evidence from three separate trials that PIEZO-ICSI can improve fertilisation success rates and hopefully help more couples and single women achieve their dreams of having a family."

PIEZO-ICSI is available to eligible patients at some Monash IVF clinics in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

The information in this article is general in nature. Please consult with your GP, specialist or other healthcare professional for advice which is specific to your health needs.

The Red Nose Grief and Loss Support Line is available 24/7 for anyone affected by the loss of a pregnancy, stillbirth or death of a baby or child on 1300 308 307.

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