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Routine Fertilization by Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI): An Argument in Favor.

by Dr. Geoffrey Sher on May 26, 2016

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection ICSI, which began in 1992 as a treatment for severe male factor infertility, involves the direct injection of a single sperm into each egg under direct microscopic vision.

Soon after the turn of the 20th century, it was reported that while the diagnosis of a male factor infertility had remained static, the use of ICSI had markedly increased and indications for ICSI had expanded from solely male infertility (for which it had primarily been developed) to a wide variety of other indications such as “unexplained infertility, unexplained IVF failure, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and cases where the woman’s eggs have become more resistant to conventional fertilization. ICSI was also being used in cases where sperm was absent (or virtually absent) from the ejaculate due to a congenital, traumatic, or medically acquired obstruction of the main collecting ducts (vasa deferentia), testicular failure, or in cases of traumatic, neurologic, or psychological conditions (impotency) in which no semen/sperm was being ejaculated. In such cases, sperm obtained through Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE), or aspiration (TESA) was being successfully used for ICSI. Today, in the United States, more than 70% of all IVF fertilizations are being conducted using ICSI with high fertilization and pregnancy rates being reported, regardless of sperm concentration, motility or morphology.

Clearly ICSI is increasingly replacing conventional insemination due to its many benefits and lack of definable drawbacks. In fact, pregnancy rates achieved by this method of fertilization are at least as high as those of conventional IVF performed in cases of non-male-factor infertility. Indeed, ICSI is associated with high fertilization and pregnancy rates regardless of sperm concentration, motility or morphology.

Notwithstanding, the above, the proposition that ICSI be preferentially used as the routine method for fertilizing eggs in IVF continues to meet with resistance. Die hards argue that about 1-3% of pregnancies resulting from ICS  are associated with congenital developmental and genetic defects that affect the offspring. They cite conditions such as *Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, *Angelman syndrome, *hypospadias, sex chromosome abnormalities, a slightly increased miscarriage rate and the fact that male offspring resulting fom ICSI pregnancies are themselves at risk of subsequently developing male infertility in later life.

What one does not often hear from nay-sayers is that the studies that cite the aforementioned risks do not distinguish cases in which ICSI was mandated for male infertility from cases in which ICSI was done for any other reasons. If this was done, in my opinion, the above mentioned birth defects and developmental conditions would be largely confined to the underlying male factor for which ICSI was indicated and not due to the ICSI process itself. In fact, a relatively recent study performed in Sweden demonstrated this well. 542 children who were conceived naturally were compared with 941 children conceived through IVF (440 by conventional IVF & 541via ICSI). The babies/children were assessed at birth and during the first 5 years of life: The findings revealed that while the incidence of birth and developmental defects was indeed higher in ICSI babies, this only applied to cases where ICSI had been done for male infertility. It did not apply to cases in which ICSI was done in the absence of male factor infertility.

Another very important consideration that supports the routine fertilization of eggs by ICSI is the fact that good quality IVF relies heavily on an  ability to adequately assess egg maturation immediately following egg retrieval. To do this requires removal of layers of cumulus oophoris (CO) cells that cover the egg envelopment (zona pellucida). Only after the CO is stripped can the first polar body (PB-1) which is located immediately under the zona pellucida be identified and it is the presence of PB-1 signifies that indicates that the egg has gone through meiosis (reproductive division) and is thus mature (M2) and overwhelmingly, successful fertilization and viable embryo development requires that the fertilized egg was mature (M2). This assessment for the presence of PB-1 cannot be reliably done without first removing the cumulus oophoris cells attached to the outer surface of the zona pellucida. The problem is that stripping the cumulus oophoris cells away, markedly reduces natural fertilization potential, leaving ICSI as the only alternative by which to subsequently achieve viable embryo propagation. The only way by which to avoid fertilization by ICSI would be to bypass the important step of assessing egg maturation and this, in my opinion, would compromize IVF outcome significantly. Thus optimization of the entire IVF process virtually mandates routine ICSI  in IVF.

For the above reasons, I proudly count myself among a growing majority of IVF practitioners who support the routine use of ICSI for all IVF patients

*Angelman syndrome is a complex genetic disorder characterized by delayed development, intellectual disability, speech impairment, and problems with movement and balance (ataxia). Most cases are not inherited, particularly those caused by a deletion in the maternal chromosome 15  or by paternal uniparental disomy. These genetic changes are random events that take place  during the formation of reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) or in early embryonic development.

*Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome is a congenital growth disorder that causes large body size, large organs, and other symptoms. t results from a defect in the genes on chromosome 11. About 10% of cases can be passed down through families.

*Hypospadias: Hypospadias is a condition where the opening isn’t at the tip of the penis. Instead, it is located any place along the underside of the penis.

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  • Julie Polo - June 29, 2017 reply

    I am Age 35yo w/ DOR: AMH 0.55ng. FSH 15-18, LH 5-6. AFC 6-9. No male factor contributions. We have completed 2 embryo banking cycles with PGS using ICSI for fertilization. Our goal is to bank 4 normal embryos so we can hopefully get 2 babies. We haven’t tried implantation yet.
    #1: 7 eggs, all fertilized but only 2 made it to day5. PGS results a) normal 46XY and b) abnormal 45XY (22 deletion).
    #2: 6 eggs, all fertilized but only 2 made it to Day5. PGS results a) abnormal, 46XX but with 2 deletions and 2 extra. b) abnormal 47XY (20 addition)

    It makes sense to me that out of millions of sperm, many would be abnormal. From what I understand, ICSI only selects sperm based on morphology but has no way of guaranteeing that that particular sperm is genetically normal. My DOR is certainly contributing to our genetic abnormalities, but do you think that ICSI could also be a contributor by accidently selecting chromosomally abnormal sperm? Would it be worth trying natural fertilization this next cycle to allow for natural selection? I have also heard of PICSI, would this be a better choice? I understand there is a risk of failure to fertilize with natural fertilization, but would it be possible to try for natural selection first and then rescue ICSI for the eggs that don’t fertilize naturally?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - June 29, 2017 reply

    ICSI is a highly unlikely contributing factor and it has yet to be demonstrated conclusively that PICSI-sperm selection is really of benefit.

    Geoff Sher

  • Emma Keogh - December 3, 2016 reply

    We did IVF with PGS and ICSI we were told was the method that had to be used. We did IVF and PGS due to repeated miscarriage at 10 weeks and we had one living child. My husbands drag was 20% fragmentation but he went on strict diet and supplements for 3 months and we were told the sample was perfect at fertilisation. Our son died at 34 weeks due to CDH and hydrops. What in our case could be the cause ? the ICSI?

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher

    Dr. Geoffrey Sher - December 3, 2016 reply


    I presume there is no RH incompatibility and if not then t congenital cardiac condition could have caused the hydrops and if so the chance of it recurring would be VERY small.

    Perhaps we should talk about your Recurrent pregnancy loss:

    When it comes to reproduction, humans are the poorest performers of all mammals. In fact we are so inefficient that up to 75% of fertilized eggs do not produce live births, and up to 30% of pregnancies end up being lost within 10 weeks of conception (in the first trimester). RPL is defined as two (2) or more failed pregnancies. Less than 5% of women will experience two (2) consecutive miscarriages, and only 1% experience three or more.
    Pregnancy loss can be classified by the stage of pregnancy when the loss occurs:
    • Early pregnancy loss (first trimester)
    • Late pregnancy loss (after the first trimester)
    • Occult “hidden” and not clinically recognized, (chemical) pregnancy loss (occurs prior to ultrasound confirmation of pregnancy)
    • Early pregnancy losses usually occur sporadically (are not repetitive).
    In more than 70% of cases the loss is due to embryo aneuploidy (where there are more or less than the normal quota of 46 chromosomes). Conversely, repeated losses (RPL), with isolated exceptions where the cause is structural (e.g., unbalanced translocations), are seldom attributable to numerical chromosomal abnormalities (aneuploidy). In fact, the vast majority of cases of RPL are attributable to non-chromosomal causes such as anatomical uterine abnormalities or Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID).
    Since most sporadic early pregnancy losses are induced by chromosomal factors and thus are non-repetitive, having had a single miscarriage the likelihood of a second one occurring is no greater than average. However, once having had two losses the chance of a third one occurring is double (35-40%) and after having had three losses the chance of a fourth miscarriage increases to about 60%. The reason for this is that the more miscarriages a woman has, the greater is the likelihood of this being due to a non-chromosomal (repetitive) cause such as IID. It follows that if numerical chromosomal analysis (karyotyping) of embryonic/fetal products derived from a miscarriage tests karyotypically normal, then by a process of elimination, there would be a strong likelihood of a miscarriage repeating in subsequent pregnancies and one would not have to wait for the disaster to recur before taking action. This is precisely why we strongly advocate that all miscarriage specimens be karyotyped.
    There is however one caveat to be taken into consideration. That is that the laboratory performing the karyotyping might unwittingly be testing the mother’s cells rather than that of the conceptus. That is why it is not possible to confidently exclude aneuploidy in cases where karyotyping of products suggests a “chromosomally normal” (euploid) female.
    Late pregnancy losses (occurring after completion of the 1st trimester/12th week) occur far less frequently (1%) than early pregnancy losses. They are most commonly due to anatomical abnormalities of the uterus and/or cervix. Weakness of the neck of the cervix rendering it able to act as an effective valve that retains the pregnancy (i.e., cervical incompetence) is in fact one of the commonest causes of late pregnancy loss. So also are developmental (congenital) abnormalities of the uterus (e.g., a uterine septum) and uterine fibroid tumors. In some cases intrauterine growth retardation, premature separation of the placenta (placental abruption), premature rupture of the membranes and premature labor can also causes of late pregnancy loss.
    Much progress has been made in understanding the mechanisms involved in RPL. There are two broad categories:
    1. Problems involving the uterine environment in which a normal embryo is prohibited from properly implanting and developing. Possible causes include:
    • Inadequate thickening of the uterine lining
    • Irregularity in the contour of the uterine cavity (polyps, fibroid tumors in the uterine wall, intra-uterine scarring and adenomyosis)
    • Hormonal imbalances (progesterone deficiency or luteal phase defects). This most commonly results in occult RPL.
    • Deficient blood flow to the uterine lining (thin uterine lining).
    • Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). A major cause of RPL. Plays a role in 75% of cases where chromosomally normal preimplantation embryos fail to implant.
    • Interference of blood supply to the developing conceptus can occur due to a hereditary clotting disorder known as Thrombophilia.
    2. Genetic and/or structural chromosomal abnormality of the embryo.Genetic abnormalities are rare causes of RPL. Structural chromosomal abnormalities are slightly more common but are also occur infrequently (1%). These are referred to as unbalanced translocation and they result from part of one chromosome detaching and then fusing with another chromosome. Additionally, a number of studies suggest the existence of paternal (sperm derived) effect on human embryo quality and pregnancy outcome that are not reflected as a chromosomal abnormality. Damaged sperm DNA can have a negative impact on fetal development and present clinically as occult or early clinical miscarriage. The Sperm Chromatin Structure Assay (SCSA) which measures the same endpoints are newer and possibly improved methods for evaluating.

    Autoimmune IID: Here an immunologic reaction is produced by the individual to his/her body’s own cellular components. The most common antibodies that form in such situations are APA and antithyroid antibodies (ATA).
    But it is only when specialized immune cells in the uterine lining, known as cytotoxic lymphocytes (CTL) and natural killer (NK) cells, become activated and start to release an excessive/disproportionate amount of TH-1 cytokines that attack the root system of the embryo, that implantation potential is jeopardized. Diagnosis of such activation requires highly specialized blood test for cytokine activity that can only be performed by a handful of reproductive immunology reference laboratories in the United States.
    Alloimmune IID, i.e., where antibodies are formed against antigens derived from another member of the same species, is believed to be a relatively common immunologic cause of recurrent pregnancy loss.
    Autoimmune IID is often genetically transmitted. Thus it should not be surprising to learn that it is more likely to exist in women who have a family (or personal) history of primary autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus (LE), scleroderma or autoimmune hypothyroidism (Hashimoto’s disease), autoimmune hyperthyroidism (Grave’s disease), rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Reactionary (secondary) autoimmunity can occur in conjunction with any medical condition associated with widespread tissue damage. One such gynecologic condition is endometriosis. Since autoimmune IID is usually associated with activated NK and T-cells from the outset, it usually results in such very early destruction of the embryo’s root system that the patient does not even recognize that she is pregnant. Accordingly the condition usually presents as “unexplained infertility” or “unexplained IVF failure” rather than as a miscarriage.

    Alloimmune IID, on the other hand, usually starts off presenting as unexplained miscarriages (often manifesting as RPL). Over time as NK/T cell activation builds and eventually becomes permanently established the patient often goes from RPL to “infertility” due to failed implantation. RPL is more commonly the consequence of alloimmune rather than autoimmune implantation dysfunction.
    However, regardless, of whether miscarriage is due to autoimmune or alloimmune implantation dysfunction the final blow to the pregnancy is the result of activated NK cells and CTL in the uterine lining that damage the developing embryo’s “root system” (trophoblast) so that it can no longer sustain the growing conceptus. This having been said, it is important to note that autoimmune IID is readily amenable to reversal through timely, appropriately administered, selective immunotherapy, and alloimmune IID is not. It is much more difficult to treat successfully, even with the use of immunotherapy. In fact, in some cases the only solution will be to revert to selective immunotherapy plus using donor sperm (provided there is no “match” between the donor’s DQa profile and that of the female recipient) or alternatively to resort to gestational surrogacy.
    In the past, women who miscarried were not evaluated thoroughly until they had lost several pregnancies in a row. This was because sporadic miscarriages are most commonly the result of embryo numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) and thus not treatable. However, a consecutive series of miscarriages points to a repetitive cause that is non-chromosomal and is potentially remediable. Since RPL is most commonly due to a uterine pathology or immunologic causes that are potentially treatable, it follows that early chromosomal evaluation of products of conception could point to a potentially treatable situation. Thus I strongly recommend that such testing be done in most cases of miscarriage. Doing so will avoid a great deal of unnecessary heartache for many patients.
    Establishing the correct diagnosis is the first step toward determining effective treatment for couples with RPL. It results from a problem within the pregnancy itself or within the uterine environment where the pregnancy implants and grows. Diagnostic tests useful in identifying individuals at greater risk for a problem within the pregnancy itself include:

    • Karyotyping (chromosome analysis) both prospective parents
    • Assessment of the karyotype of products of conception derived from previous miscarriage specimens
    • Ultrasound examination of the uterine cavity after sterile water is injected or sonohysterogram, fluid ultrasound, etc.)
    • Hysterosalpingogram (dye X-ray test)
    • Hysteroscopic evaluation of the uterine cavity
    • Full hormonal evaluation (estrogen, progesterone, adrenal steroid hormones, thyroid hormones, FSH/LH, etc.)
    • Immunologic testing to include:
    a) Antiphospholipid antibody (APA) panel
    b) Antinuclear antibody (ANA) panel
    c) Antithyroid antibody panel (i.e., antithyroglobulin and antimicrosomal antibodies)
    d) Reproductive immunophenotype
    e) Natural killer cell activity (NKa) assay (i.e., K562 target cell test)
    f) Alloimmune testing of both the male and female partners
    Treatment for Anatomic Abnormalities of the Uterus: This involves restoration through removal of local lesions such as fibroids, scar tissue, and endometrial polyps or timely insertion of a cervical cerclage (a stitch placed around the neck of the weakened cervix) or the excision of a uterine septum when indicated.
    Treatment of Thin Uterine Lining: A thin uterine lining has been shown to correlate with compromised pregnancy outcome. Often this will be associated with reduced blood flow to the endometrium. Such decreased blood flow to the uterus can be improved through treatment with sildenafil and possibly aspirin.
    Sildenafil (Viagra) Therapy. Viagra has been used successfully to increase uterine blood flow. However, to be effective it must be administered starting as soon as the period stops up until the day of ovulation and it must be administered vaginally (not orally). Viagra in the form of vaginal suppositories given in the dosage of 25 mg four times a day has been shown to increase uterine blood flow as well as thickness of the uterine lining. To date, we have seen significant improvement of the thickness of the uterine lining in about 70% of women treated. Successful pregnancy resulted in 42% of women who responded to the Viagra. It should be remembered that most of these women had previously experienced repeated IVF failures.

    Use of Aspirin: This is an anti-prostaglandin that improves blood flow to the endometrium. It is administered at a dosage of 81 mg orally, daily from the beginning of the cycle until ovulation.
    Treating Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction with Selective Immunotherapy: Modalities such as IL/IVIg, heparinoids (Lovenox/Clexane), and corticosteroids (dexamethasone, prednisone, prednisolone) can be used in select cases depending on autoimmune or alloimmune dysfunction.
    The Use of IVF in the Treatment of RPL
    In the following circumstances, IVF is the preferred option:
    1. When in addition to a history of RPL, another standard indication for IVF (e.g., tubal factor, endometriosis, and male factor infertility) is superimposed.
    2. In cases where selective immunotherapy is needed to treat an immunologic implantation dysfunction.
    The reason for IVF being a preferred approach in such cases is that in order to be effective, the immunotherapy needs to be initiated well before spontaneous or induced ovulation. Given the fact that the anticipated birthrate per cycle of COS with or without IUI is at best about 15%, it follows that short of IVF, to have even a reasonable chance of a live birth, most women with immunologic causes of RPL would need to undergo immunotherapy repeatedly, over consecutive cycles. Conversely, with IVF, the chance of a successful outcome in a single cycle of treatment is several times greater and, because of the attenuated and concentrated time period required for treatment, IVF is far safer and thus represents a more practicable alternative
    Since embryo aneuploidy is a common cause of miscarriage, the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), with tests such as CGH, can provide a valuable diagnostic and therapeutic advantage in cases of RPL. PGD requires IVF to provide access to embryos for testing.
    There are a few cases of intractable alloimmune dysfunction due to absolute DQ alpha matching where Gestational Surrogacy or use of donor sperm could represent the only viable recourse, other than abandoning treatment altogether and/or resorting to adoption. Other non-immunologic factors such as an intractably thin uterine lining or severe uterine pathology might also warrant that last resort consideration be given to gestational surrogacy.
    The good news is that if a couple with RPL is open to all of the diagnostic and treatment options referred to above, a live birthrate of 70%–80% is ultimately achievable.

    I strongly recommend that you visit http://www.DrGeoffreySherIVF.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
    • IVF: Factors Affecting Egg/Embryo “competency” during Controlled Ovarian Stimulation(COS)
    • The Fundamental Requirements For Achieving Optimal IVF Success
    • Ovarian Stimulation for IVF using GnRH Antagonists: Comparing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion Protocol.(A/ACP) With the “Conventional” Antagonist Approach
    • Ovarian Stimulation in Women Who have Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR): Introducing the Agonist/Antagonist Conversion protocol
    • Anti Mullerian Hormone (AMH) Measurement to Assess Ovarian Reserve and Design the Optimal Protocol for Controlled Ovarian Stimulation (COS) in IVF.
    • 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?
    • Blastocyst Embryo Transfers Should be the Standard of Care in IVF
    • IVF: How Many Attempts should be considered before Stopping?
    • “Unexplained” Infertility: Often a matter of the Diagnosis Being Overlooked!
    • IVF Failure and Implantation Dysfunction:
    • The Role of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 1-Background
    • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 2- Making a Diagnosis
    • Immunologic Dysfunction (IID) & Infertility (IID):PART 3-Treatment
    • Thyroid autoantibodies and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
    • Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction: Importance of Meticulous Evaluation and Strategic Management:(Case Report
    • Intralipid and IVIG therapy: Understanding the Basis for its use in the Treatment of Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction (IID)
    • Intralipid (IL) Administration in IVF: It’s Composition; How it Works; Administration; Side-effects; Reactions and Precautions
    • Natural Killer Cell Activation (NKa) and Immunologic Implantation Dysfunction in IVF: The Controversy!
    • Endometrial Thickness, Uterine Pathology and Immunologic Factors
    • Vaginally Administered Viagra is Often a Highly Effective Treatment to Help Thicken a Thin Uterine Lining
    • Treating Out-of-State and Out-of-Country Patients at Sher-IVF in Las Vegas:
    • A personalized, stepwise approach to IVF
    • How Many Embryos should be transferred: A Critical Decision in IVF.
    • The Role of Nutritional Supplements in Preparing for IVF

    Please call or email Julie Dahan, my patient concierge. She will guide you on how to set up an in-person or Skype consultation with me. You can reach Julie at on her cell phone or via email at any time:
    Julie Dahan
    • Email: Julied@sherivf.com
    • Phone: 702-533-2691
     800-780-7437

    Geoff Sher

    I also suggest that you access the 4th edition of my book ,”In Vitro Fertilization, the ART of Making Babies”. It is available as a down-load through http://www.Amazon.com or from most bookstores and public libraries.

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