Cyclical Estrogen Therapy Prior to Embryo Transfer, in Post-Menopausal Women and those with Prolonged Hypothalamic Amenorrhea can Reduce the Chance of Failed IVF and Miscarriage

It is not uncommon for women with prolonged absence of menstruation (amenorrhea) (whether due to prolonged menopause or hypothalamic (central) dysfunction) to have chronic estrogen deprivation. In many such cases this causes the uterus to shrink (involute) and/or renders the uterine lining (endometrium)  relatively refractory (unresponsive) to subsequent estrogen therapy, increases the risk of miscarriage, and potentially compromises fetal development. All these sequelae are potentially avoidable if women who have  prolonged amenorrhea ( >6 months) associated with hypoestrogenism, first have their blood gonadotropins (FSH and LH) and blood estradiol (E2) levels measured to differentiate between menopause (ovarian failure) and  hypothalamic hypoestrogenism (where the  low estrogen is due to under-stimulation of the ovaries. Thereupon they should be evaluated for physical evidence of uterine involution (shrinkage) and/or the ability of the uterine lining to thicken in response to a therapeutic trial with supplementary estrogen. This should be followed by several months of cyclical estrogen therapy in an attempt to restore uterine size and endometrial responsiveness to estrogen, prior to their undergoing embryo transfer.

A woman is born with several million eggs. After birth, these eggs rapidly decline in number such that by the time puberty is reached, only about 1 million eggs are present in the ovaries. Thereupon, with every consecutive  ovulatory cycle a significant number of these eggs begin a “recruitment journey in which they undergo (still relatively poorly understood) developmental changes , finally presenting in the ovaries, 4 months later, as small (4-6mm) fluid-filled spaces called “antral follicles” . It is from these antral follicles that one (and sometimes >1) follicles  differentiate from the rest by growing more rapidly in response to FSH. These become identifiable by ultrasound, as “dominant” follicles that will ultimately ovulate and release an egg for fertilization.

The progressive decline in ovarian eggs that occurs with advancing age ultimately results in progressive  depletion of eggs and ultimately,  the onset of the menopause.  Most women do not enter the physiological menopause until well after the age of 40y, but some women undergo premature ovarian failure (POF) due to genetically induced accelerated egg depletion, pelvic disease, ovarian trauma, surgery or (more rarely) exposure to radiation or cancer chemotherapy.

Regardless of the age or cause of menopause, once the event occurs, ovarian estrogen production falls precipitously and in time, often will virtually cease.

It is important to bear in mind that when it comes to achieving a pregnancy though egg donation or embryo donation, prolonged estrogen deprivation can have several serious consequences. One of these is that the uterus begins to involute (shrink) and the uterine lining (endometrium) starts losing its ability to respond to estrogen. This can result in a reduced ability of the endometrium to thicken adequately in response to required preparatory estrogen therapy and in the process be rendered unable to support embryo implantation,  resulting in repeated failure to achieve pregnancy, miscarriage and worst of all, should implantation occur in  an increased  risk  of poor fetal growth and development .

Fortunately, the above scenarios are avoidable through the administration of cyclical estrogen therapy for several months before performing embryo transfer in such women , to encourage regeneration of uterine estrogen receptors and  restore optimal uterine and endometrial growth and development.

While menopause is the commonest reason for such endometrial and uterine involution, it is NOT the only cause. A similar situation (of chronic estrogen deprivation), is sometimes encountered in non-menopausal women who fail to menstruate for protracted periods of time (usually longer than 6 months in a row). In fact, many such women, will give a history of never ever having seen a period in their lifetimes (primary amenorrhea).  The reason for their hypoestrogenism is dysfunction of the  hypothalamus (an area in the brain that releases gonadotropin releasing hormone-GnRH) which in turn causes the pituitary gland to produce and release gonadotropins (LH and FSH) that promote ovarian estrogen production).  What differentiates such women from menopausal women (whose ovaries fail to respond to gonadotropin stimulation) is that women with such hypothalamic dysfunction have very low blood gonadotropin as well as estrogen levels while those with ovarian failure have high gonadotropin and low estrogen blood concentrations. Nevertheless, women with hypothalamic chronic estrogen deprivation will over time also develop a small, involuted uterus with an endometrium that is poorly responsive to estrogen. These women also require several months of estrogen “priming”, prior to undergoing embryo transfer. The big difference however, is that unlike menopausal women (who have ovarian failure) and thus require someone else’s eggs (usually an egg donor) women with hypothalamic hypoestrogenism can undergo ovarian stimulation and use their own eggs with IVF.

3 Comments

Eva

Dear dr. Sher,
I found this article very interesting, since I found a bit of myself in it, but I still have a few questions.
To make my story short. I am 29 yrs old, have hypothalamic amenorrhea, no other medical conditions. I have come off the pill in 2011. Have had irregular periods, every 90 days until 2015, when my periods stopped completely. My BMI gradually decreased from 22 in 2013 to 18 in 2015. I have been on HRT from 2016 until 2019 for 6 months every year.
In 2019 I was put on HRT for 4 months prior my first IVF cycle (stimmed with Gonal, had to increase the dose, we got 7 eggs, 4 day-5 blastocysts, lining 9mm, cycle failed).For the next FET: we tried Femara, but I did not respond, so we stimulated with Menopur, lining 9mm, cycle failed. Second FET: Menopur, lining 9mm, cycle failed.
For luteal phase support, I was on Crinone 8mg once a day for first two cycles, for the last cycle I took Utrogestan 200mg 3 times a day.
I increased my BMI from 18(first cycle) to 20(third cycle).
Do you have any other recommendations on why the embryos don’t stick? We have one frozen embryo left.
Is it possible that the embryos are aneuploid, since I got some information that at my age only 50% of the eggs are euploid?
Or would you maybe consider immunological reasons? Other than HA, I am healthy.
Thank you very much.

reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

In my opinion, your protocol for ovarian stimulation probably needs to be critically reviewed and revised.

A: The critical importance of invidualizing the protocol for ovarian stimulation:

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.

B: Why does IVF often fail

Whenever a patient fails to achieve a viable pregnancy following embryo transfer (ET), the first question asked is why! Was it simply due to, bad luck?, How likely is the failure to recur in future attempts and what can be done differently, to avoid it happening next time?.
It is an indisputable fact that any IVF procedure is at least as likely to fail as it is to succeed. Thus when it comes to outcome, luck is an undeniable factor. Notwithstanding, it is incumbent upon the treating physician to carefully consider and address the causes of IVF failure before proceeding to another attempt:
1. Age: The chance of a woman under 35Y of age having a baby per embryo transfer is about 35-40%. From there it declines progressively to under 5% by the time she reaches her mid-forties. This is largely due to declining chromosomal integrity of the eggs with advancing age…”a wear and tear effect” on eggs that are in the ovaries from birth.
2. Embryo Quality/”competency (capable of propagating a viable pregnancy)”. As stated, the woman’s age plays a big role in determining egg/embryo quality/”competency”. This having been said, aside from age the protocol used for controlled ovarian stimulation (COS) is the next most important factor. It is especially important when it comes to older women, and women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) where it becomes essential to be aggressive, and to customize and individualize the ovarian stimulation protocol.
We used to believe that the uterine environment is more beneficial to embryo development than is the incubator/petri dish and that accordingly, the earlier on in development that embryos are transferred to the uterus, the better. To achieve this goal, we used to select embryos for transfer based upon their day two or microscopic appearance (“grade”). But we have since learned that the further an embryo has advanced in its development, the more likely it is to be “competent” and that embryos failing to reach the expanded blastocyst stage within 5-6 days of being fertilized are almost invariably “incompetent” and are unworthy of being transferred. Moreover, the introduction into clinical practice about 15y ago, (by Levent Keskintepe PhD and myself) of Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS), which assesses for the presence of all the embryos chromosomes (complete chromosomal karyotyping), provides another tool by which to select the most “competent” embryos for transfer. This methodology has selective benefit when it comes to older women, women with DOR, cases of unexplained repeated IVF failure and women who experience recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL).
3. The number of the embryos transferred: Most patients believe that the more embryos transferred the greater the chance of success. To some extent this might be true, but if the problem lies with the use of a suboptimal COS protocol, transferring more embryos at a time won’t improve the chance of success. Nor will the transfer of a greater number of embryos solve an underlying embryo implantation dysfunction (anatomical molecular or immunologic).Moreover, the transfer of multiple embryos, should they implant, can and all too often does result in triplets or greater (high order multiples) which increases the incidence of maternal pregnancy-induced complications and of premature delivery with its serious risks to the newborn. It is for this reason that I rarely recommend the transfer of more than 2 embryos at a time and am moving in the direction of advising single embryo transfers …especially when it comes to transferring embryos derived through the fertilization of eggs from young women.

4. Implantation Dysfunction (ID): Implantation dysfunction is a very common (often overlooked) cause of “unexplained” IVF failure. This is especially the case in young ovulating women who have normal ovarian reserve and have fertile partners. Failure to identify, typify, and address such issues is, in my opinion, an unfortunate and relatively common cause of repeated IVF failure in such women. Common sense dictates that if ultrasound guided embryo transfer is performed competently and yet repeated IVF attempts fail to propagate a viable pregnancy, implantation dysfunction must be seriously considered. Yet ID is probably the most overlooked factor. The most common causes of implantation dysfunction are:

a. A“ thin uterine lining”
b. A uterus with surface lesions in the cavity (polyps, fibroids, scar tissue)
c. Immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID)
d. Endocrine/molecular endometrial receptivity issues
e. Ureaplasma Urealyticum (UU) Infection of cervical mucous and the endometrial lining of the uterus, can sometimes present as unexplained early pregnancy loss or unexplained failure following intrauterine insemination or IVF. The infection can also occur in the man, (prostatitis) and thus can go back and forth between partners, with sexual intercourse. This is the reason why both partners must be tested and if positive, should be treated contemporaneously.
Certain causes of infertility are repetitive and thus cannot readily be reversed. Examples include advanced age of the woman; severe male infertility; immunologic infertility associated with alloimmune implantation dysfunction (especially if it is a “complete DQ alpha genetic match between partners plus uterine natural killer cell activation (NKa).
I strongly recommend that you visit 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
• Use of GnRH Antagonists (Ganirelix/Cetrotide/Orgalutron) in IVF-Ovarian Stimulation Protocols.
• 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?
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reply
Dr. Geoffrey Sher

Hi Ariel,

Respectfully, I think that at 45y of age you should be thinking exclusively about doing IVF with egg donation. Because of the very high incidence of egg numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) at your age the chance of success is minimal and the risk of miscarriage >60%. The lining isssue is separate and we cxould discuss this at some oportunity.

Egg donation is the process by which a woman donates eggs for purposes of assisted reproduction or biomedical research. For assisted reproduction purposes, egg donation typically involves in vitro fertilization (IVF) technology, with the eggs being fertilized in the laboratory, unfertilized eggs may be frozen and stored for later use. Egg donation is a third party reproduction as part of assisted reproductive technology (ART).
For many women, disease and/or diminished ovarian reserve precludes achieving a pregnancy with their own eggs. Since the vast majority of such women are otherwise quite healthy and physically capable of bearing a child, egg donation (ED) provides them with a realistic opportunity of going from infertility to parenthood.
Egg donation is associated with definite benefits. Firstly, in many instances, more eggs are retrieved from a young donor than would ordinarily be needed to complete a single IVF cycle. As a result, there are often supernumerary (leftover) embryos for cryopreservation and storage. Secondly, since eggs derived from a young woman are less likely than their older counterparts to produce aneuploid (chromosomally abnormal) embryos, the risk of miscarriage and birth defects such as Down’s syndrome is considerably reduced.
Egg Donation-related, fresh and frozen embryo transfer cycles account for 10%-15% of IVF performed in the United States. The vast majority of egg donation procedures performed in the U.S involve women with declining ovarian reserve. While some of these are done for premature ovarian failure, the majority are undertaken in women over 40 years of age. Recurrent IVF failure due to “poor quality” eggs or embryos is also a relatively common indication for ED in the U.S. A growing indication for ED is in cases of same-sex relationships (predominantly female) where both partners wish to share in the parenting experience by one serving as egg provider and the other, as the recipient.
Ninety percent of egg donation in the U.S is done through the solicitation of anonymous donors who are recruited through a state-licensed egg donor agency. It is less common for recipients to solicit known donors through the services of a donor agency, although this does happen on occasion. It is also not easy to find donors who are willing to enter into such an open arrangement. Accordingly, in the vast majority of cases where the services of a known donor is solicited, it is by virtue of a private arrangement. While the services of non-family members are sometimes sought, it is much more common for recipients to approach close family members to serve as their egg donor.
Some recipients feel the compulsion to know or at least to have met their egg donor, so as to gain first hand familiarity with her physical characteristics, intellect, and character. This having been said, in the U.S. it is much more common to seek the services of anonymous donors. In terms of disclosure to their family, friends and child(ren), recipients using anonymous donors tend to be far more open than those of known donors about the nature of the child’s conception. Most, if not all, egg donor agencies provide a detailed profile, photos, medical and family history of each prospective donor for the benefit and information of the recipient. Agencies generally have a website through which recipients can access donor profiles in the privacy of their own homes in order to select the ideal donor.
Interaction between the recipient and the egg donor program may be conducted in-person, by telephone or online in the initial stages. Once the choice of a donor has been narrowed down to two or three, the recipient is asked to forward all relevant medical records to their chosen IVF physician. Upon receipt of her records, a detailed medical consultation will subsequently held and a physical examination by the treating physician or by a designated alternative qualified counterpart is scheduled. This entire process is usually overseen, facilitated and orchestrated by one of the donor program’s nurse coordinators who, in concert with the treating physician, will address all clinical, financial and logistical issues, as well as answering any questions. At the same time, the final process of donor selection and donor-recipient matching is completed.
Egg donor agencies usually limit the age of egg donors to women under 35 years with normal ovarian reserve in an attempt to minimize the risk of ovarian resistance and negate adverse influence of the “biological clock” (donor age) on egg quality.
No single factor instills more confidence regarding the reproductive potential of a prospective egg donor than a history of her having previously achieved a pregnancy on her own, or that one or more recipients of her eggs having achieved a live birth. Moreover, such a track record makes it far more likely that such an ED will have “good quality eggs”. Furthermore, the fact that an ED readily conceived on her own lessens the likelihood that she herself has tubal or organic infertility. This having been said, the current shortage in the supply of egg donors makes it both impractical and unfeasible, to confine donor recruitment to those women who could fulfill such stringent criteria for qualification.
It is not unheard of for a donor who, at some point after donating eggs, finds herself unable to conceive on her own due to pelvic adhesions or tubal disease, to blame her infertility on complications caused by the prior surgical egg retrieval process. She may even embark upon legal proceedings against the IVF physician and program. It should therefore come as no surprise that it provides a measurable degree of comfort to ED program when a prospective donor is able to provide evidence of having experienced a relatively recent, trouble free spontaneous pregnancy.
Screening of Donors
Genetic Screening: The vast majority of IVF programs in the U.S. follow the recommendations and guidelines of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) for selectively genetic screening of prospective egg donors for conditions such as sickle cell trait or disease, thalassemia, cystic fibrosis and Tay Sachs disease, when medically indicated. Consultation with a geneticist is available through about 90% of programs.

Most recipient couples place a great deal of importance on emotional, physical, ethnic, cultural and religious compatibility with their chosen egg donor. In fact they often will insist that the egg donor be heterosexual.
Psychological Screening: Americans tend to place great emphasis on psychological screening of egg donors. Since most donors are “anonymous,” it is incumbent upon the ED agency or the IVF program to determine the donor’s degree of commitment as well as her motivation for deciding to provide this service. I have on occasions encountered donors who have buckled under the stress and defaulted mid-stream during their cycle of stimulation with gonadotropins. In one case, a donor knowingly stopped administering gonadotropins without informing anyone. She simply awaited cancellation, which was effected when follicles stopped growing and her plasma E2 concentration failed to rise.
Such concerns mandate that assessment of donor motivation and commitment be given appropriate priority. Most recipients in the U.S. tend to be very much influenced by the “character” of the prospective egg donor, believing that a flawed character is likely to be carried over genetically to the offspring. In reality, unlike certain psychoses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorders, character flaws are usually neuroses and are most likely to be determined by environmental factors associated with upbringing. They are unlikely to be genetically transmitted. Nevertheless, egg donors should be subjected to counseling and screening and should be selectively tested by a qualified psychologists. When in doubt, they should be referred to a psychiatrist for more definitive testing. Selective use of tests such as the MMPI, Meyers-Briggs and NEO-Personality Indicator are used to assess for personality disorders. Significant abnormalities, once detected, should lead to the automatic disqualification of such prospective donors.
When it comes to choosing a known egg donor, it is equally important to make sure that she was not coerced into participating. We try to caution recipients who are considering having a close friend or family member serve as their designated egg donor, that in doing so, the potential always exists that the donor might become a permanent and an unwanted participant in the lives of their new family.
Drug Screening: Because of the prevalence of substance abuse in our society, we selectively call for urine and/or serum drug testing of our egg donors.
Screening for STDs: FDA and ASRM guidelines recommend that all egg donors be tested for sexually transmittable diseases before entering into a cycle of IVF. While it is highly improbable that DNA and RNA viruses could be transmitted to an egg or an embryo through sexual intercourse or IVF, women infected with viruses such as hepatitis B, C, HTLV, HIV etc, must be disqualified from participating in IVF with egg donation due to the (albeit remote) possibility of transmission, as well as the potential legal consequences of the egg donation process being blamed for their occurrence.

In addition, evidence of prior or existing infection with Chlamydia or Gonococcus introduces the possibility that the egg donor might have pelvic adhesions or even irreparably damaged fallopian tubes that might have rendered her infertile. As previously stated, such infertility, subsequently detected might be blamed on infection that occurred during the process of egg retrieval, exposing the caregivers to litigation. Even if an egg donor or a recipient who carries a sexually transmittable viral or bacterial agent is willing to waive all rights of legal recourse, a potential risk still exists that a subsequently affected offspring might in later in life sue for wrongful birth.
Screening of the Recipient

Medical Evaluation: while advancing age, beyond 40 years, is indeed associated with an escalating incidence of pregnancy complications, such risks are largely predicable through careful medical assessment prior to pregnancy. The fundamental question namely: “is the woman capable of safely engaging a pregnancy that would culminate in the safe birth of a healthy baby” must be answered in the affirmative, before any infertility treatment is initiated. For this reason, a thorough cardiovascular, hepatorenal, metabolic and anatomical reproductive evaluation must be done prior to initiating IVF in all cases.
Infectious Screening: the need for careful infectious screening for embryo recipients cannot be overemphasized. Aside from tests for debilitating sexually transmittable diseases, there is the important requirement that cervical mucous and semen be free of infection with ureaplasma urealyticum. This organism which rarely causes symptoms frequents the cervical glands of 15-20% of women in the U.S. The introduction of an embryo transfer catheter via a so infected cervix might transmit the organism into an otherwise sterile uterine cavity leading to early implantation failure and/or first trimester miscarriage.
Immunologic Screening: Certain autoimmune and alloimmune disorders (see elsewhere) can be associated with immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID). In order to prevent otherwise avoidable treatment failure, it is advisable to evaluate the recipient for autoimmune IDD and also to test both the recipient and the sperm provider for alloimmune similarities that could compromise implantation.
Disclosure and Consent
Preparation for egg donation requires full disclosure to all participants regarding what each step of the process involves from start to finish, as well as potential medical and psychological risks. This necessitates that significant time be devoted to this task and that there be a willingness to painstakingly address all questions and concerns posed by all parties involved in the process. An important component of full disclosure involves clear interpretation of the medical and psychological components assessed during the evaluation process. All parties should be advised to seek independent legal counsel so as to avoid conflicts of interest that might arise from legal advice given by the same attorney. Appropriate consent forms are then reviewed and signed independently by the donor and the recipient couple.

Most embryo recipients fully expect their chosen donor to yield a large number of mature, good quality eggs, sufficient to provide enough embryos to afford a good chance of pregnancy as well as several for cryopreservation (freezing) and storage. While such expectations ore often met, this is not always the case. Accordingly, to minimize the trauma of unexpected and usually unavoidable disappointment, it is essential that in the process of counseling and of consummating agreements, the respective parties be fully informed that by making best efforts to provide the highest standards of care, the caregivers can only assure optimal intent and performance in keeping with accepted standards of care. No one can ever promise an optimal outcome. All parties should be made aware that no definitive representation can or will be made as to the number or quality of ova and embryos that will or are likely to become available, the number of supernumerary embryos that will be available for cryopreservation or the subsequent outcome of the IVF donor process.
TYPES OF EGG DONATION
Conventional Egg Donation: This is the basic format used for conducting the process of egg donor IVF. It involves synchronizing the menstrual cycles of both the recipient and the donor by placing the donor and the recipient on a birth control pill so that both parties start stimulation with fertility drugs simultaneously. This ultimately allows for precise timing of the fresh embryo transfer. Using this approach, the anticipated egg donation birth rate is >50% per cycle.
Preimplantation Genetic Sampling (PGS)-Egg Donation: The recent introduction of complete numerical chromosomal assessment (karyotyping) using metaphase Comparative Genomic Hybridization (mCGH) and Next Generation Gene sequencing (NGS) has the potential to change the manner in which egg donation will be performed in the future. CGH/NGS allows full egg/embryo chromosome analysis providing a 70- 80% assurance that the embryo(s) so selected for transfer are highly likely to be “competent” (i.e. capable of producing a healthy baby). Such PGS-egg selection provides about a 50% chance of a baby per transfer of an embryo derived through fertilization of a pre-vitrified euploid egg. This is at least double that reported when conventional egg donation is used. As a result, mCGH/NGS-Egg Donation allows for excellent results when one or two embryos are transferred, virtually eliminating the risk of “high order” multiple pregnancies (triplets or greater). Moreover, since numerical chromosomal irregularities (aneuploidy) are responsible for most miscarriages, the use of CGH also significantly reduces this dreaded complication.
PGS egg selection of necessity mandates the use of Staggered (ST)- IVF. Here the egg donor cycle is divided into two parts. The first involves the egg retrieval, fertilization, embryo biopsy for PGS analysis and embryo cryostorage. The second part involving warming or thawing of the frozen embryo(s) and the subsequent transfer of “competent” embryo(s) to the recipient’s uterus is conducted electively at least several weeks later once the results of PGS testing are available. Since, with St-IVF the egg retrieval and embryo transfer are separated in time, the retrieval can be performed without first having to synchronize the menstrual cycles of the recipient and the egg the donor. In fact, the recipient does not even have to be available when the egg donor is going through cycle. All that is needed is for designated sperm to be available (fresh or frozen) on the day of egg retrieval. This avoids unnecessary travel and inconvenience, and minimizes stress and cost.
Donor Egg Banking: Another imminent advance is the introduction of egg banking. Being able to freeze and bank donor eggs would solve most of these challenges. By using PGS in combination with a egg vitrification (ultra-rapid freezing), we are now capable of improving the birth rate per warmed/thawed egg by a factor of 3-4 fold (from a previous average of <8% per egg to about 27%). Through an electronic catalogue, recipients will be able to select and purchase 1-3 CGH-normal eggs from the comfort of their homes. Thereupon, the selective transfer of 1 or 2 embryos derived from such chromosomally normal eggs could achieve a 50-60% pregnancy rate without the risk of initiating high-order multiple pregnancies in the process. Through this process, the cost, inconvenience and risks associated with “conventional” fresh egg donor cycles would also be reduced significantly.
Financial Considerations
The fee paid to the egg donor agency per cycle usually ranges between $2,000 and $8,000. This does not include the cost associated with psychological and clinical pre-testing, fertility drugs, and donor insurance, which commonly range between $3,000 and $6,000. The medical service costs of the IVF treatment cycle ranges between $8,000 and $14,000. The donor stipend can range from $2,000 too as high $50,000 depending upon the exotic requirements of the recipient couple as well as supply and demand. Thus the total out of pocket expenses for an egg donor cycle in the United States range between $15,000 and $78,000, putting egg donation outside the financial capability of most couples needing this service.
The growing gap between need and affordability has spawned a number of creative ways to try and make IVF with egg donation more affordable. Here are a few examples:
• Egg banking (see above)
• Egg Donor Sharing, where one comprehensive fee is shared between two recipients and the eggs are then divided between them. The downside is that fewer eggs are available embryos for transfer and/or cryopreservation.
• Egg Bartering, where in the course of conventional IVF, a woman undergoing IVF remits some of her eggs to the clinic (who in turn provides it to a recipient patient) in exchange for a deferment of some or all of the IVF fee. In my opinion, such an arrangement can be fraught with problems. For example, in the event that the woman donating some of her eggs fails to conceive while the recipient of her eggs does, it is very possible that she might suffer emotional despair and even go so far as to seek out her genetic offspring. Such action could be very damaging to both her and the recipient, as well as the child.
• Financial Risk Sharing. Certain IVF programs offer financial risk sharing (FRS) which most recipient couples favor greatly. FRS offers qualifying candidates a refund of fees paid if egg donation is unsuccessful. FRS is designed to spread the risk between the providers, and the recipient couple.
Moral, Legal & Ethical Considerations: The “Uniform Parentage Act” which has been adopted by most states in the United States declares that the woman who gives birth to the child will be regarded as the rightful mother. Accordingly, there has to date not been any grounds for legal dispute when it comes to maternal custody of a child born through IVF with egg donation in the majority of states. In a few states such as Mississippi and Arizona the law is less clear but nevertheless, as yet, has not been contested.
The moral-ethical and religious implications of egg donation are diverse and have a profound effect on cultural acceptance of this process. The widely held view that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and has the right to have such opinions respected, governs much of the attitude towards this process in the U.S. The extreme views on each end of the spectrum hold the gentle central swing of the pendulum in place. This attitude is a reflection of the general acceptance in the united states of diverse views and opinions and the willingness to allow free expression of such views and beliefs provided that they don’t infringe on the rights of others.
So where do we go from here? Can and should we, cryopreserve and store eggs or ovarian tissue from a young woman wishing to defer procreation until it becomes convenient? And if we do this, would it be acceptable to eventually have a woman give birth to her own sister or aunt? Can or should we store viable ovarian tissue through generations. Should egg donation simply become a future source of embryos generated for the purpose of providing stem cells, to be used in the treatment of disease states or to “manufacture” fetuses as a source of spare body parts? If the answer to even some of these questions is yes…what about the checks and balances. Who will exercise control and where what form should such control take? Are we willing to engage this slippery slope where the disregard for the dignity of the human embryo leads us to the point where the rights of a human being are more readily ignored? …………………… Personally, I hope not.
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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.

Patients are encouraged to share the information I provide, with their treating Physicians and/or to avail themselves of my personal hands-on services, provided through batched IVF cycles that I conduct every 3 months at Los Angeles IVF (LAIVF) Clinic, Century City, Los Angeles, CA.

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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