IVF & pregnancy after 40

Vladimiro Silva, PharmD
Scientific and Executive Director, Ferticentro

Advanced Maternal Age, Donor Eggs, Genetics PGS / PGT-A

Pregnancy after 40
From this video you will find out:
  • What is the link between oocyte aneuploidy and maternal age?
  • What are the obstetric risks of pregnancy and birth after 40?
  • What is the protocol in complicated cases especially for international patients?
  • How doctors assess your ovarian reserve (e.g. FSH, AMH) and pregnancy risk?
  • What are the criteria for a normal prognosis? FSH, AMH levels?
  • Egg donation – the last resort method


Everything about IVF over 40 and potential pregnancy risks

Watch the webinar recording with Vladimiro Silva, PharmD, Embryologist, CEO, Founder & IVF Lab Director at Ferticentro, who is discussing IVF and pregnancy after the age of 40.

Dr Silva started his presentation by explaining that it is a worldwide tendency nowadays, and more and more women are getting pregnant at more advanced maternal age. In France, in 2016, 5 % of the babies were born to mothers older than 40. In one of the articles in The New York Times, they mentioned that more than 100,000 Americans give birth in their 40s each year. The Guardian in the UK talks about the issue of getting pregnant over 40 and explains that it is not always a question of choice, but a consequence of what happens in their lives.

Some data from France shows that at the beginning of the 80s, the number of babies born to mothers over 40 started to increase. Nowadays, we are almost at the same level as in the 60s, which is somehow surprising, but the explanation is quite understandable. In the 60s, 76% of the women were delivering after the age of 40, but they were having their 3rd or even more babies. Nowadays, most of them are having their first or their second child. Therefore, we’ve moved from a society where motherhood after the age of 40 was a consequence of having a large number of children to a model where people are having their first kids after the age of 40.

In one of the studies, the investigators showed that in countries such as Portugal, women are considered too old to have babies after the age of 38-39. While in some other countries like, for instance, the UK, France, and the Nordic countries, they only think that women are too old to have babies at the age of 45. Therefore, it’s also a very cultural thing. It is very directly connected with the level of education of every woman. In every European country, the more educated a woman is, the more likely she is to have a baby later in life.

Pregnancy after 40 – reasons

The countries where women work the most are the ones where fertility rates are higher. The explanation for this is very clear, women’s increased education is linked to later childbearing. It is attributed to difficulties in balancing student and mother roles, as well as the fact that better-educated women are more likely to pursue careers that entail a steeper career ladder and more investment in human capital. Women’s labour force participation is linked with the postponement, largely due to the incompatibility between caring for children and participation in the paid labour force. Young adults may also delay childbearing until their income increases, and they can afford children, but also to avoid the wage penalty of early motherhood. Another thing is that people are moving towards small family sizes, people are having multiple partnerships, women are waiting for their perfect man, and sometimes it takes longer to find one, there are also higher rates of divorce, all of these are factors that induce delaying childbirths.

There are other economical constraints like the housing market, and the fact that nowadays jobs are not as steady as they were in the past. This all contributes to delaying pregnancy.

Age-related issues

It is well known that the peak in human fertility is at the age of 25, and then it starts to drop after the age of 34, and it reaches almost zero chances at around 46, which is more or less the age of menopause. The probability of having a miscarriage also increases with age, and this is why it is so difficult to have kids after 40. One of the studies published a few years ago where they evaluated the genetic content of more than 20,000 embryos showed that the percentage of chromosomally normal embryos (euploid embryos) is around 60% at the age of 34, then it starts to decline with age and at the age of 46, it’s around 10%. The probability of receiving at least one euploid embryo in an IVF cycle also decreases with age. After the age of 35, the drop is very clear is very steep. This study also showed the distinction between day 3 and day 5 embryos. According to this study, there are no differences, those are the same embryos, although the moment when the embryo was taken was different.

The probability of having an aneuploid (chromosomally abnormal) embryo increases after34. The probability of having a live birth is lower after 34, and the miscarriage rate also increases. Aneuploidies are changes in the number of chromosomes, and the probability of having a Trisomy according to maternal age increases after 35. In 1970, the mean mother’s age at the birth of her first child was 26, while in 2014, it was 30. Some studies suggest that the risk of Trisomy 21 at 10 weeks of pregnancy is 1 in every, 1064 at age 25. At the age of 45, it is 1 in 19.

There are many risks associated with age, and genetic risk was already explained, but there are other risks like obstetric risks, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and stillbirths that can also occur. There are a lot of potential complications in pregnancy and their incidents according to age.

There was a study published in the British International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG) where they compared the pregnancy of the UK population of older women. They concluded that women giving birth at a more advanced age have higher of a range of pregnancy complications. Those risks were essentially associated with multiple pregnancies and the use of assisted conception. One of the most important things is to avoid multiple pregnancies because that always increases the risks significantly, but their relative incidence remains low.

Therefore, it is crucial to evaluate every patient individually, discuss risks with them, so that they can make informed decisions and avoid multiple pregnancies, and make sure the procedure is safe for both mother and future child.

IVF over 40 – first steps

The first thing that needs to be done is the pregnancy risk assessment. You need to ask yourself if you can with it if it is possible to have a safe pregnancy, and if the answer is yes, you can move on to the next step. This is an ovarian reserve assessment to see if it is still possible to proceed with your own eggs, or if you should go for an egg donation instead or maybe try Preimplantation genetic testing as an intermediate solution. It is also crucial to evaluate your uterus and if it is ready to take an embryo and the pregnancy to term.

The first parameter that helps with assessing ovarian reserve is FSH. A part of our brain called the pituitary gland produces 2 hormones, FSH and LH. Those hormones will act on the ovary, and they will boost the development of follicles available in the ovaries, every woman is born with more or less 400,000 ovarian follicles.

Under the action of FSH, from the moment the woman has her first menstruation, 1 of these follicles will grow, and every month, an egg will be released in the tube. FSH stimulates the ovaries to mature those follicles, and while they are developing, those follicles produce oestrogens, the pituitary detects the level of estrogen, and it stops producing FSH. Therefore, when the ovaries are not working anymore, the pituitary will increase the production of FSH. This is why older women have higher levels of FSH because their ovaries are not responding, and then the pituitary tries to compensate for it. The higher the FSH is, the lower the live birth is, this is also associated with age. It’s still preferable to be younger than to have a good FSH, for example, a patient aged 24 with an FSH of 10, still has a better pregnancy rate than a patient at 44 and an FSH level of 3. With normal FSH levels, pregnancy rates are better for all ages, while with elevated or borderline or perimenopausal FSH, pregnancy rates tend to decline for all ages.

The most important parameter is the AMH, which is produced by the antral follicles in the ovaries. Those are the follicles that are in the ovaries waiting for the FSH to recruit them. They produce a hormone called AMH, therefore, AMH levels are very closely associated with the number of available follicles that are available to participate in ovulation. The higher the AMH is, the more fertile the woman is. AMH starts to decline with age, and this parameter is very closely associated with the likelihood of pregnancy.

The number of antral follicles in the ovaries producing AMH can be observed on an ultrasound scan. Normally, all those 3 parameters are taken into account when assessing ovarian reserve. Criteria for normal prognosis include FSH below 15 and AMH at 0.5 ng/ mL, it’s very important to look into the units.

Genetic testing

One of the possibilities while treating women over 40 is to do Pre-implantation genetic testing. The data from Igenomix, which is one of the biggest genetic testing labs in the world, showed that the implantation rates in cases where PGT-A (Pre-implantation genetic testing for aneuploidies) was done, there were no significant differences between age groups up to 35, 35 to 37, 38-40, 41-42 and above 42. If you look at the implantation rates where PGT-A wasn’t used, it is clear that the effect of age is clear. Thanks to PGT-A, it is possible to select only viable embryos. The same happens with delivery rates, and the opposite happens with miscarriage rates. What’s the benefit of doing the PGT-A? It is all about information, PGT-A will not transform a bad embryo into a good embryo, but it will give you and the doctors information, and that information is very important in a decision-making process, especially while deciding to go for egg donation or trying treatment with your own eggs.

One of the possibilities associated with PGT-A is egg banking. It is possible to do an ovarian stimulation and then freeze the eggs, nowadays, there is over 90% of survival rate for frozen eggs for women of all ages, although we need to remember the older the woman is, the less likely the eggs are going to survive. What can be done is repeated stimulations to accumulate a good number of eggs and then fertilize them and do a PGT-A assessment. Usually, the goal is to achieve 10 or sometimes 15 eggs or as much as possible, sometimes some patients are producing 1 or 2 eggs, but it is still possible to accumulate them and give the patient a shot at trying with her own eggs.

Egg donation

Egg donation is the last resource, no one starts this process because they want to become a mother with somebody else’s eggs, it’s never the first option, however, it is often the most reliable one. The data from the CDC, the National Authority in the United States, showed that for all age groups, the odds of having a pregnancy with donor eggs are more or less the same, they don’t change with age, it’s always between 60 and 70%. The chances of having a pregnancy using a patient’s own eggs are never as high as with donor eggs, and they drop very steeply after 35. Egg donation is a non-invasive approach, it’s also a very good solution for many patients, and sometimes it’s also the only solution for patients.
In Portugal, egg donation is non-anonymous, a donor needs to be matched with the recipient. The process has to be transparent, the child at the age of 18 will have the right to access the donor ID. It’s important to remember that the number of donations per donor should be limited, and the compensation type to the donor should be transparent and controlled by the local authorities. The whole process has to be very well counseled,

Nowadays there’s no such thing as an anonymous donor, there are studies on that with the current DNA basis, it is very easy to find the identity of supposedly anonymous egg donors, all human rights courts and authorities are issuing recommendations for not-anonymous egg donation, so we very strongly defend the cause of non-anonymous egg donation, and it’s also the best way to achieve a pregnancy when it is impossible using your own eggs.

Related reading:


- Questions and Answers

I’ve had two failed IVF cycles. I have two embryos frozen and I’m thinking of going for the third try. I’m 37. What are some of the factors that make an IVF fail?

First of all, I’m assuming that this patient has tried IVF twice so I’d say that we would certainly test the embryo, even embryos that are already frozen can be tested genetically. We can take the uncertainty factor out of the equation. If the embryos are genetically viable, we would focus our investigations on the endometrium. If the endometrium is okay and there is a lot to look for in the endometrium; there are any military factors, there are endometrial receptivity factors and also there are other more rare causes like thrombophilia, general hereditary disorders, gynecological issues like problems with implantation, fibroids, problems with the uterus and so on. But, first of all, I’d start by testing the embryos to know whether they are viable or not. If the embryos are viable, I would then focus on the endometrium. If the embryos are not viable, we would need to see if there is any room for optimization in the embryo and the ovarian stimulation. If so, we would need to try again. There is no alternative.

I’m 47/ I’ve had 3 IVF with own eggs. All 3 didn’t implant. I had a hysteroscopy to check the uterus. It was perfectly fine. Then I went to Spain and did an egg donation IVF. The embryo implanted but I had a miscarriage after 7 weeks. What else do I need to check before my next IVF? The husband’s sperm is OK. My eggs are not of good quality. I don’t have much time to try several times as I am nearly 48.

I don’t know if they did preimplantation genetic testing so we don’t know whether the embryos were viable or not. But I’m assuming that if these treatments were done, the problem was most likely a genetic issue of the embryo. Then the patient did a treatment in Spain with egg donation and she miscarried at 7 weeks. That can happen. Again we don’t know the quality of the embryo. Miscarriages happen normally. Here there is an indication to search for miscarriage causes when we have at least 3 miscarriages. I wouldn’t say that this is an indication to start doing some tests but, in this particular case, the obvious solution is to do another egg donation treatment. Then, I would start with the endometrial receptivity evaluation. It’s a very important factor. It impacts a lot of patients. That’s also the most likely issue to be found. If everything is okay, if we have good quality embryos, if we have receptive endometrium, I would try them without any further tests. If it doesn’t work, we would probably look further and we could look for immune factors like natural killer cells, antigens, HLA C, antigens, etc. There are a lot of things that we can investigate. I would go one step at a time. I don’t believe in looking for everything at the same time. If in a new egg donation treatment we get good quality embryos and we get a receptive endometrium, I would try again directly. I think the prognosis would be very good assuming that everything is fine.

Is it true that with less medication, lighter stimulation, mild IVF produce less but better quality eggs and this is more relevant for women over 40? Or does this have no difference?

I will give you the most honest answer I can: I actually don’t know because a few years ago we all believed in this. There were a lot of people doing mild IVF including ourselves. There are several mild  IVF protocols with less medication, lighter stimulation. Very often we just had one egg or two eggs and in principle, those would be better quality embryos. However, recent studies, especially published in the last two years, have shown that there is actually no upper number limiting the number of eggs regarding their quality. There have been studies showing that in cases where we get 30-40 eggs, the likelihood of having a genetically abnormal embryo doesn’t increase with the number of eggs. Nowadays the tendency to answer this question is no. But, again, five years ago the answer would probably be different. There is also an inter-patient variability – something could be true for some patients, for others it couldn’t. I believe that mild IVF in older patients is not the first choice. I would say that we would only do that if doing IVF with high dosages and a lot of embryos and eggs doesn’t work, maybe then we could try this approach. But in principle, we would not do this as a first line approach.

I have been diagnosed with natural killer cells after 2 failed attempts (IVF and ICSI). Do you believe in natural killer cells? Do you treat them? I’m considering egg donation. I’m 45.

I believe in natural killer cells. I understand the question because this is not something that all clinics follow. We only start looking for these types of unusual or less frequent factors when we don’t have an explanation for previous failures. When we find out that there is an increased level of natural killer cells and all associated changes, we should treat them. We have protocols that are specific for patients with high natural killer cells. If you’ve been diagnosed with that, we will definitely treat you accordingly. We believe in the effect. We don’t search for problems with natural killer cells as a first-line approach while dealing with failure. There are other factors that we think are more likely to be the explanation for an IVF failure. However, if we find out that there is something wrong with the natural killer cells, we would treat them with specific protocols. Egg donation is certainly a good solution and with a preventive protocol for the natural killer issue, the prognosis would certainly be good.

Would NK cells prevent egg donation from working out?

Not exactly because there might be other issues but, yes, they could prevent egg donation from working. We have to take care of that issue. We have to give the proper medication to avoid that.

I’m 44. If I have egg donation treatment, what are my chances of having a baby? I had a successful pregnancy 5 years ago.

Your chances are more or less the same as every other woman doing egg donation. I mean you have a good prognosis factor which is the fact that you’ve already had a baby and a successful pregnancy. We’ve proved that your womb can take a pregnancy to term. Assuming that everything is normal I would say that the chances would be the same as we have seen in my presentation – 60-70%. I would say that the chances are very good.

I’m 42. My AMH is 2.24 which I know is good for quantity but does it have any impact on egg quality as well?

Yes, I would say that if we’re talking about 2.24 ng/ml, it would be a wonderful value. Obviously we cannot talk about quality and without checking but I would say that you are certainly a good prognosis patient because a good AMH is also associated with better quality eggs. The more eggs we get the more likely we are to find a suitable and viable egg. I would definitely recommend PGT in your case but I would say that it does have an impact on egg quality as well.

Is it possible to simulate a woman in her 50s? My period stopped last year. AMH is 0. I’ve gone through 8 out of 11 cycles with my own eggs? If not, what abou nuclear or spindle transfer?

With the current technologies, it is not possible with an AMH of zero and being in their 50s. It wouldn’t be legal. In medicine, we don’t like to use the word impossible but from a strictly scientific point of view, the chances would be extremely low. I cannot say zero because I mean nature gives us a lot of surprises. Two years ago we had a patient getting pregnant spontaneously at the age of 51 so that can happen. I would say that chances are almost zero if not zero. Nuclear and spindle transfer – nowadays there is a lot of discussion going on this subject. There are studies and in fact, there are very reliable studies that have been done where we are doing cytoplasm transfer which means that we take the cytoplasm of the neck from an egg donor and we put it inside into the egg and leaving the nucleus of the patient. We know that by doing that we would have the nucleus of the patient who is getting pregnant which has all of her DNA and most important characteristics and that will work with the mitochondria from the egg donor. The mitochondria is a center of energy for the cell and that will give the egg enough energy to develop and correct potential genetic problems. However, that only been properly tested in younger women. In older women where there are abnormalities already in the nucleus, it’s yet to be proven whether there’s any room for correction of potential genetic errors. Personally, I find it very unlikely. I think science will progress. There have been studies where a part of the ovarian function has been recovered even in menopausal women and so maybe within years from now, this will become possible. Nowadays, I would say it is no possible. I wouldn’t believe in it but science is evolving and so maybe in a couple of years it becomes possible but nowadays I personally don’t believe in it.

I have just turned 43 so I don’t have much time on my hands just about to start the first cycle. How many cycles can one do back-to-back? What is advisable?

I’m assuming that you want to try with your own eggs. I would not recommend doing more than three ovarian stimulations. I would say that, first of all, we would need to assess the AMH, AFC (the antral follicle count), and also the FSH which is the other hormone that’s associated with how the ovary works in hormonal terms. We would check the data and if it’s still possible, we would do ovarian stimulation. Our goal is always to try to have 10 eggs because we know that by starting with 10 eggs, we will theoretically have at least one viable embryo. We would start with 10 eggs and try to have as many embryos as possible. We would do PGT-A and see if any of them is genetically viable. We can bank eggs, we can do ovarian stimulation, get 4-5 eggs, do second ovarian stimulation, accumulate 5-6 more, do it for the third time and then fertilize all the fresh and the previously frozen eggs. It’s about statistics. I think that up to three ovarian stimulations there is no doubt that they are safe. They don’t pose any risk to your health. We can have a try and check for further genetic content. All studies indicate that it is safe. There is no upper limit, there are studies saying that on the 10th ovarian stimulation your risk of cancer increases. There is no such information but there’s certainly a threshold above which we should not continue to do ovarian stimulation. Normally at our clinic, we say that three ovarian stimulations are a wise decision. It’s within what’s acceptable. After that, if we don’t get good quality embryos, it’s better to think about egg donation. But again every case is different. In some cases we try more than that, some others we try less than we move on to egg donation so it’s also a personal decision from the patient’s side. Just to clarify I don’t mean three IVF cycles but three ovarian stimulations with pick-up cycles. We can do three IVF cycles but in my opinion, it’s better to accumulate eggs and then do one IVF cycle after three ovarian stimulations, three egg pick-ups and then one IVF procedure and one PGT-A procedure. It would be less expensive and more informative but the result, at the end of the day, would be the same as with three IVF cycles.

I think you’re not giving the full picture but only showing one side of the PGT-A story. You should also talk about the fact that the testing is faulty (it only takes from one area), that there are embryos that come back as “bad” embryos that actually go on to be healthy babies. Not to mention the fact that there is a huge conflict of interest in that a clinic gets a large amount of money if they refer a patient for testing. The clinic also gets a payment when the patient does the PGT-A testing. Even if the clinic is not doing the testing but only referring the patient. They do nothing and they get money for this. Obviously, it is in a clinic’s financial interest to have patients do the testing since they get a lot of money for doing nothing. In Canada, the clinic refers the patient and gets CAD2,000 and the testing centre gets CAD2,000-3,000.

The first part of the question related to mosaicism. When we’re doing PGT-A, we cannot genetically analyze all cells in an embryo. We have embryos with more than 100 cells at the blastocyst stage and we take 4-6 cells from the embryo. Our decisions and our classification of that embryo are based on what we found. We have criteria for mosaicism levels that are acceptable and mosaicism levels that are not acceptable. There is also a possibility that some of these mosaic embryos, those bad cell lines and those good cell lines take over the development of the embryo. So the part of the embryo that carries the abnormality doesn’t develop and the rest of the embryo develops. There have been case reports about this and we can obviously test for that. However, nowadays we work with labs that are very careful in assessing mosaicism in the embryos. If mosaicism of the embryo is zero and, theoretically speaking, that can happen to all embryos. But, again, we need to have criteria and the number or the percentage of embryos that actually are classified as abnormal embryos that end up leaving a viable child is very low. But, again, that can happen. It’s controlled, in the sense that we are genetic labs worldwide are lowering their cut-off levels for mosaicism and the process is getting better by the day. Nowadays, for example, at our clinic, we’re only working with next-generation sequencing (NGS) which is a technique where the accuracy is very good. It’s 98%. Obviously, it’s not 100%. The other way around can also happen. We can classify an embryo as viable and, theoretically speaking, it could have another line of cells that are genetically abnormal, that can take over the embryo and originate a baby with a genetic abnormality. I’ve never seen that in my professional life but it is a theoretical risk. So, yes, there are mosaic embryos and, no, I don’t believe that they are the reason to stop doing PGT-A. It’s not about changing the embryo, it’s about getting information. If we have an embryo which is a carrier for a genetic abnormality, we have to see what type of abnormality we are talking about. There are different types of abnormalities, with different impacts and different chances of originating in a normal child. It is a complex question. I’m not a geneticist but we have people specialized in that. This is something that we always have to explain to patients. There is a risk of mosaicism. Now about the other part regarding the conflict of interests. I cannot talk on behalf of other people. At Ferticentro, we do the test ourselves. This is not the case of doing nothing because we actually do the treatment and we only charge the patient. I can tell you testing an embryo costs EUR360 so it’s a lot of money but it’s nothing compared to the total. It’s less than 10% of the costs of an IVF cycle. Perhaps this person is talking about some other clinics. In the clinics I know worldwide I don’t think that this is happening. I don’t know everything that happens everywhere but as I said we’re talking about EUR360 – that’s how much patients pay for testing an embryo. As for the Canadian clinics’ practice, I don’t know anything like this in Europe. At least, it’s not like this in Portugal, Spain, the UK or Poland. I don’t think in Europe you will find this.

What would be the cost of an egg donation cycle in your clinic? Is there a certain number of blastocysts guaranteed?

This is actually an interesting question because a classical egg donation cycle at our clinic (Ferticentro) with the 2 blastocysts guarantee is EUR6,440 and that includes everything. We also have programs with 5 blastocysts guaranteed that cost EUR10,800, if I’m not mistaken. What’s the difference? In the lab, we always do the same. We stimulate an egg donor, we collect all of our eggs, we fertilize the eggs and we try to get as many embryos as possible. If we have a compromise of obtaining 2 blastocysts with the patient, this means that if we only get one, the patient gets another egg donor free of charge. If we only have a compromise of having 5 blastocysts and we only have zero or one, the patient gets as many egg donors as necessary to achieve the agreed number of blastocysts. We’re talking about financial guarantees. From the clinical and the lab point of view, what happens is always the same – we try to do our best, we try to have as many viable embryos as possible. We don’t know how many we’re going to get. It is cheaper to have a 5 blastocyst guarantee than to try twice. Essentially we work with these two modalities. You can buy two blastocysts guarantee and end up with many more. For example, today we had a lady who went for 2 blastocysts guarantee and she ended up with 11 blastocysts. That happens. It’s a question of luck but we always try to get as many as we can. This is about finances because we don’t make any distinction between donors and cases. We always try to get as many embryos as possible.

Does IVF stimulation increase the chances of having abnormal eggs compared to eggs produced in a natural cycle?

I don’t know if anyone can really answer this question. In theory, yes, but again there’s no alternative because it will depend. If a woman has a low ovarian reserve, if her hormonal levels are lower, the quantity of hormones that are stimulating the ovaries during the development of the egg would be very low. Then maybe in a natural cycle, the egg will not be normal. By doing an artificial cycle, we can assure that the quantity of hormones is appropriated for normal development of the egg. In this particular example, an artificial cycle would be better than a natural cycle, however, if we’re talking about a 25-year-old woman with normal hormone levels and we are giving her stimulation, obviously since we’re going get so many eggs, it’s probable that some of them are abnormal. They could have some abnormality. The right answer to this question is it will depend on the age of the woman, it will depend on the hormonal levels of every woman. In principle, if we have a low ovarian reserve and if we have a very high FSH that will mean that in a natural cycle life will not be viable.

I have one blocked tube and the other cut off due to ectopic pregnancy in 2007/8. After that surgery, I had a couple of pregnancies but aborted them due to my other tube being blocked. After 7-8 years I had two IVFs and none of them even implanted. What could be causing this? I want to have one more try. I have my own eggs frozen. I’m 37.

With blocked tubes that are not working, there’s actually no way to get pregnant naturally so IVF is the only solution. I don’t know the circumstances of the treatment. I would certainly prefer to test the embryos once again to see if they are viable or not. If they are not viable, I would focus on endometrium to see if there is any gynecological factor, then check the endometrial receptivity. We always go like this: the first line, we take a look at the uterine cavity to see if we have perfect uterine conditions for implantation; on the second level, we look into endometrial receptivity, things like the ERA test, etc. We test for endometrial receptivity and we also test for problems in the endometrium like natural killer cells, etc. But, again, we don’t test everything at the same time. We start with the most likely causes and then we go for the less likely ones. We also screen for thrombophilia and other internal factors so we would see if we find anything. We probably know how to deal with it and how to maximize the odds. It’s a good thing that you have your eggs frozen because that will allow your clinic to work with eggs collected at a younger age. However, if you’re 37, I would probably try to do another ovarian stimulation and leave those eggs as a last resource. At the age of 37, a lot of women don’t produce normal eggs and so those eggs could be kept for a second child. Obviously, there is money involved. We have to think of the economic factor but I would recommend saving those eggs for later and do another ovarian stimulation while the ovaries are still working.

What is the success rates (live birth rates) for fresh vs. frozen embryo implantation? What is the scenario for assisting international EU patients? Who would you recommend contacting to discuss all aspects of this within your clinic in Portugal?

The success rates for fresh vs. frozen embryo implantation – there is no difference. Nowadays, with the current vitrification methods, the odds of an embryo surviving the process of freezing and warming are more or less 98%. With modern vitrification techniques, it’s almost the same. Sometimes we’re freezing embryos from the die to the other. The example that I just gave of the lady that had 11 blastocysts, we’re freezing all of them because she is now going to start her treatment. We prefer to wait for the egg pickup of the egg donor. We fertilize her eggs, we develop the embryos, and then once we have confirmation that the embryos were viable and good quality, she will stop. We’re doing this in an elective way. Also, we prefer to use frozen embryos because that leaves us room to optimize the endometrium and also to organise the treatment. Not only especially for international patients but also nowadays with the Covid-19 situation. Planning travelling is sometimes not very easy and so for all of those reasons but even before Covid-19, we were always recommending to use frozen embryos because that will allow us to optimize the uterine conditions for the implantation. The scenario for assisting international European Union patients – 80% of our activity is with international European Union patients because we’re one of the few countries where we have non-anonymous donations and we do have donors. Countries such as the UK have non-anonymous donations but their donations and treatments are very expensive. Countries such as Spain, Greece, and the Czech Republic have eggs from the anonymous donors only. This is what we do on a daily basis. We work in six different languages and so we’re very happy to receive you. If you want, I can help. You can talk to me. I’m leaving my e-mail address and phone number so you can write to me directly.

What do we get to know about the donor in Portugal? Hair colour, eye colour, height, age, anything else? At what age would the child be able to get the information on the biological mother? Could you briefly mention the laws regarding donation and recommend the best source of information for this? Is there a max. number of times an individual can donate in Portugal?

Information on the donor, physical characteristics – all of that, hair colour, eye colour, age, height, the level of education. At our clinic, some of our donors have extended profiles. We’re not allowed to disclose identifiable information but we are working on providing other information about the donors things like kind of music they listen to, kind of studies that they have done if they like riding a bike, favourite color because it is important for us that patients feel connected to the donor. This is just to build a relationship, to build trust in the process with patients. Some of the donors have already an extended profile, some others still don’t. That’s something we are developing and we’re getting more and more information. The are more and more donors with this extended information model. But, obviously, the physical characteristics and the age of the donor are available to know in 100% of the cases. At what age would the child be able to get the information? At the age of 18. That’s what the law states. It is a guarantee from the Portuguese state so even if a clinic closes, it’s the national IVF authority that will give the information on the ID of the donor to the child. That information is kept for 75 years. Regarding the legislation in Portugal, there is another webinar where I’ve talked a little more about this. But very briefly we have non-anonymous donation where children can access the ID of their donors at the age of 18 and every egg donor can donate four times in her lifetime, separated by three months. It is controlled by the national IVF authorities. Before we can accept the donor, we have to register her in the national online database. We are audited and inspected several times for this process. The donors get a payment of EUR878. That amount is fixed by law. We cannot pay cash. It has to be paid by bank transfer – it is a very transparent process. The egg donor signs a receipt and we have to have that proof of payment. It’s the same value for every public and private clinic. All egg donors need to be non-anonymous so they sign the document where they acknowledge the fact once the child is 18, their identity (the donor’s) can be disclosed to the children. Donors are prepared for this; they will not be surprised. That’s one of the advantages of the Portuguese law. The problem is that people who have donated anonymously in countries such as Portugal a few years ago or Spain, they think they are anonymous but nowadays with those DNA banks that are popping all over the world, it’s very easy to find the donor and the donor himself doesn’t even need to send his DNA to those banks. It can be a coincidence when one or two of the donor’s cousins decide to put their DNA in one of these banks, so the children born from her donation can find their donor. Nowadays, there is no such thing as an anonymous donor so we have to do this in a controlled way. We don’t want your child to knock on the door of someone who doesn’t want to be found, who doesn’t expect to be found, whose family would be probably very impacted by that information. Everything has to be done in a transparent, well-counseled, balanced way instead of the way it works nowadays with anonymous donation where things are completely out of control.

As we are reaching menopause, do we need to have hormonal treatment before we have IVF treatment?

All IVF treatments need hormones. Without hormones, we don’t have pregnancies. If women are reaching menopause, we have to do hormonal replacement cycles where we give the hormones that are required to hold the pregnancy and to take a pregnancy to term. That’s always required. We tailor every protocol according to each patient’s needs but that’s always required.

For egg donation, is there a waiting list for black women? I’m 42 and 8 months.

There are no waiting lists for black women. We have lots of black donors so there’s no problem.

Is a day 3 embryo transfer more beneficial for older women?

Nowadays, there is a tendency worldwide to do transfers on day 5. 90% or more of our transfers are on day 5 or sometimes even days 6. However, what changes is the amount of information that we have on this particular embryo? We have had a few cases of patients that have never had a pregnancy with day 5 but only with day 3 embryos. There is this dialogue between the embryo and the endometrium, there are some theories saying that if the embryo gets earlier to the womb, the womb is the best possible, ideal incubator. So the sooner we put the embryo to the womb the better so the embryo starts its dialogue with the endometrium and it has maybe more chances of being implanted. There are studies also stating that extended culture could be associated with some problems like epigenetic abnormalities and so on. I would say that day 3, in principle, should be more physiological. However, nowadays day 5 is also fine and it allows us for a better selection of embryos. Only the best embryos reach day 5 so we have a selection of embryos on day five. Some studies have been published that show that day 3 could be more physiological and so if we want to optimize the chances probably day 3 would be better. But again day 5 gives us more information and it’s perfectly safe. Worldwide there’s a tendency towards day 5 and I don’t think it is going to change.

Would you recommend two embryos being transferred at once especially for older women?

I actually recommend one embryo at a time because of the risks associated with multiple pregnancy. Also, there have been recent reports on unitary factors that in some cases where women have two embryos transferred, two embryos can actually be less likely implant than a single embryo because of the unitary effect. Also, the risk of multiple pregnancy is higher and it could let lead to complications. I would recommend just one embryo, especially for older women.

If one has a 6-day embryo, can one take the progesterone for 6 days as well? Is it okay to continue to take progesterone for 5 days?

I actually have this same doubt. We’re talking about the window of implantation here. In a physiological cycle it should be the same because the window of implantation can be open for up to 4 days. However, what we have seen in recent years especially with the investigations of groups like the ERA test is that the window of implantation, especially in older women, is a lot narrower than we initially thought. Nowadays we are programming transfers for 120+/- 3 hours so we’re being very precise while programming embryo transfers. I would say that it is more important to be sure that the endometrium is ready. What counts is the number of hours of exposure to progesterone. We need to know if the endometrium is receptive after being exposed to 120 hours of progesterone – that’s when the embryo should be transferred regardless of whether it is a day 5 or 6 embryo. However, we do need to understand what we are talking about when we say day 6 embryo or day 5 embryo – because nowadays we are in the era of time-lapse technology. We know that some embryos on day 6 are already hatching and so they are in a very advanced stage of their development and some others look like day 5 blastocysts okay. They could still be viable so it will depend. I would focus more on the receptivity of the endometrium, then on the degree of development of the embryo. Obviously, it will depend on the clinic, on the conditions of treatment but usually, we only take the embryos until day 6 or even day 7 when by day 5, they are not developed enough. They are going a little slower than usual. Nowadays, we’re not even thinking in terms of days because what you mean by day 6, it could be 144 hours because that’s 6 times 24 but 144 hours it’s already a very advanced embryo. Some people say that they see the start at 121 hours because it’s the first hour after day 5. It’s preferable to think in terms of hours of embryo development and also hours of exposure to progesterone. We need to make sure that the embryo starts blastulation before 123 hours or ideally at around 96-100 hours. Those are the most important parameters that obviously could change from clinic to clinic. But again I would prefer to focus on the endometrium receptivity rather than the degree of expansion of a blastocyst.

What is your view on epigenetics from the surrogate or the donor egg embryo? Do you have a view on doing a genetic carrier disease test on the surrogate even if she is only carrying the baby? My husband and the donor do not have any shared carrier diseases but I don’t want the epigenetic to turn on anything in the baby if the surrogate has either the egg donor’s or my husband’s carrier conditions.

We’re actually talking about two different things. First of all, my view on the epigenetics from the surrogate and egg donor – I don’t like the word surrogate because a surrogate mother is someone who doesn’t want to keep the baby, while the woman who gets pregnant with egg donation is someone who wants babies but can’t have them with her own eggs. This is why she’s using another person’s eggs so I wouldn’t call her a surrogate. I would call her just the mother. Also, when we transfer an embryo into the womb there is a dialogue that will start between the genes of the embryo and the genes of the mother which are activated and inactivated accordingly. It’s the mother’s genes throughout the embryo when it should develop, the pace of its development, the rhythm. This is impossible but if we were to transfer the same embryo to the womb of two different persons, the baby that would be born from these two theoretical pregnancies wouldn’t be the same. Because every woman’s genes or uterine environment make a difference, also when they are feeding the embryo through the placenta, if they are diabetic, even the music they listen to – it all can affect the embryo. But on an epigenetic level, so it’s the mother’s genes that will trigger the genes in the embryo on the embryo development. That has been proven that diet that genetic dialogue between the mother and the baby. There is definitely an effect on how the embryos genetic develops and that effect is controlled by the mother. Another completely different thing is the genetic carrier tests that we can do on the baby. The genetic carrier tests that we can do between the male partner and the egg donor or the female partner. Nowadays, we have lots of packages commercially available. There are packages of 300 diseases, there are packages even above 1,600 diseases. We’re all carriers of 5-6 genetic diseases and I’ve never done one of those tests so I don’t know but I’m certainly a carrier for a lot of those diseases. When we do those tests we try to make sure that the egg donor is not the carrier for the same genetic recessive diseases as the male partner. If they were both carriers for the same recessive disease, the child will have a 25% chance of having one of those diseases. This example is 301 genes. We know that if the donor and the male partner are not carriers for any of these diseases at the same time, there is no way that the child will have any of these diseases. That is completely warranted so you can be completely reassured. Don’t worry about this because your baby will not have any of these diseases. That’s guaranteed. Obviously, there are hundreds of thousands of genetic diseases; we cannot test for everything. I think in the future we will end up testing for everything but nowadays we can’t. But 300 diseases are already very complete study. I would say – don’t think about it. I think 300 diseases are already very good genetic matching and there is no epigenetic influence that can trigger one of these genes to have to turn on the disease because it is required genes from the male partner and the egg donor so the child can have the disease. By doing these tests, if they are obviously well done, there is no way your child won’t have any of these diseases.
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Vladimiro Silva, PharmD

Vladimiro Silva, PharmD

Vladimiro Silva, PharmD, embryologist, Scientific and Executive Director at Ferticentro and Procriar, two of the leading IVF centres in Portugal. Doctor of Pharmacy, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Coimbra. MSc in Health Economics, Faculty of Economy, University of Coimbra. Post-graduated in Health Services Management, Faculty of Economy, University of Porto. Post-graduated in Clinical Analysis, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Porto. Author of hundreds of lectures, oral communications, posters and scientific articles in Portugal and abroad. Vladimiro Silva speaks: English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese.
Event Moderator
Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka

Caroline Kulczycka is managing MyIVFAnswers.com and has been hosting IVFWEBINARS dedicated to patients struggling with infertility since 2020. She's highly motivated and believes that educating patients so that they can make informed decisions is essential in their IVF journey. In the past, she has been working as an International Patient Coordinator, where she was helping and directing patients on their right path. She also worked in the tourism industry, and dealt with international customers on a daily basis, including working abroad. In her free time, you’ll find her travelling, biking, learning new things, or spending time outdoors.
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