Learning from previous IVF failure and optimising the process – what else can we do?

Vladimiro Silva, PharmD
Scientific and Executive Director, Ferticentro

Failed IVF Cycles

Optimising the process after failed IVF attempts
From this video you will find out:
  • What can we learn after the IVF failure?
  • Am I ready to move on? Do I need to take a break?
  • What is the role of the woman’s age in IVF failure?
  • What is the risk of trisomy 21 per woman’s age?
  • Which gynecological factors affecting the IVF outcome?
  • How to optimize the process? Egg banking?


What else can be done after IVF failure?

In this webinar, Vladimiro Silva, PharmD, Embryologist, CEO, Founder & IVF Lab Director at Ferticentro, Coimbra, Portugal. Dr. Silva has been talking about gynecological factors, endometrial receptiveness, genetics, or immunity factors that can impact your IVF success.

- Questions and Answers

I am 38, my AMH is 1.6, I have hypothyroidism and insulin resistance. Both conditions have been treated, and my T4 and insulin levels have been in the normal range for about 5 months. I completed an IVF cycle in August. I had 6 eggs retrieved, all fertilized, but my embryos either atrophied or were abnormal. My doctor concluded that it was ‘bad luck’, and he is optimistic that a second cycle will have a positive outcome. What are the odds of a second cycle succeeding after a first cycle failed due to egg quality? Also, is there any sense in pursuing IUI after a failed IVF cycle?

I will start with the last question, it doesn’t make any sense to try IUI in this case. If the tubes are patent, so if we don’t have a problem, any blockage at the tube level, intrauterine insemination is a good option, and it’s cheaper and less invasive. However, the odds of IUI to work at the age of 38 are between 7 -8%, so as you had a problem with insulin resistance, hypothyroidism and you have a nice level of AMH, I would say that the odds seem okay. We have lots, and lots of patients doing IVF and getting babies at 38 and older. I would say 6 eggs doesn’t seem like a lot, but my advice here would be to try again, obviously trying to optimize the ovarian stimulation process. There are different protocols that we can use. Sometimes, one protocol works better than the other, we can try different strategies for different patients, and even the same patient responds differently to different strategies. I don’t know if it was bad luck, I don’t know if there’s also a male factor problem, but I think with an AMH level at 1.6 at the age of 38, we can hope to get more than 6 eggs, and if we want to increase chances, we can do the egg banking. If we can’t get more than 6 eggs, we can try to do 1-2, maybe 3 stimulations to get a good number of eggs and then fertilize all of them, do the PGT-A if that’s legally possible, and see whether the embryos are viable or not.

We have done 3xICSI cycles, and due to low AMH 4.2, I only seem to produce 4-6 follicles from which I have only had 1 embryo/blastocyst each time, which fails to implant. Is there any point in doing PGT-A with only 1 blastocyst? Is there a risk of PGT-A damaging the blastocyst?

irst of all, just to clarify, the level units of AMH in a previous patient are different than in your case. AMH at 4.2 indicates picomoles per liter, it is equivalent to 0.53 on the same scale as the previous patient. This is not a very high AMH if it is 0.53. If it’s 4.2 nanograms per millimeter, it would be great. Bottom line, you have done 3 cycles, and you’ve produced 4-6 follicles, which is not a lot. I don’t think PGT-A will damage the blastocyst, that’s a risk that always exists, but it probably affects like 2% of all blastocysts if it’s done by an experienced technician, biologist, someone who does it daily, and that’s what it’s a very delicate technique that requires a lot of experience so if you’re doing this you should be doing it in a clinic that does a lot of these procedures, whose embryologists are certified to do this technique. For example, here at Ferticentro, we had to certify all the embryologists before starting to do PGT- A on our own, so we did hundreds of procedures on mouse embryos and embryos that were offered to scientific investigation before starting doing it in real cases years ago. If we only have 1 blastocyst, I think the reason PGT-A is a good option as you don’t know why your 3 previous cycles failed. We don’t know if it was a problem with the endometrium or the embryo, so maybe your embryos were good, and the problem is with the uterus. PGT-A will help you to decide in the future whether it makes sense to try again with your own eggs, or if it’s better to think about egg donation. Some patients don’t want egg donation, they say it’s either with their own eggs or I don’t want to try, so if that’s the case, I would say you shouldn’t do PGT-A because it’s preferable to let nature decide, do the embryo transfer and see what happens. If another IVF failed, I would advise doing PGT-A because if the embryo is viable, then before transferring the embryo, you would have time to study the endometrium and all of those factors that I’ve talked about in my presentation. Before transferring the embryos, we would have the possibility to optimize the conditions of implantation. If the embryo is not viable, then it will be pointless. Probably, the most likely reason for the previous failures was the genetic part of the embryos. We would never know, we can only speculate on that. I think PGT-A is about information and is about helping patients making decisions. I would probably advise doing PGT-A unless the patient says that egg donation is not a possibility.

I am 40. My AMH 1,62ng/ml. On trigger day, my E2 was 2085 pg/ml. How many mature eggs should I expect with this value? Does it also tell about the quality? After egg retrieval, I was told that some of my eggs were destroyed, and they mentioned my age. I didn’t understand. Could eggs just get destroyed after retrieval? Unfortunately, even with the highest Menopur dosing 450, I didn’t respond as expected, and only 1 follicle grew when previously, I had 4-6. My consultant decided we should do IUI instead of wasting it. Although that wasn’t our original plan, we had to make this decision. If this IUI were not to work, we intend to retry embryo banking again. What’s your opinion on my poor response, and do you think it’s good to try again and treat the previous attempt as priming my ovaries as my left ovary was quiet?

The AMH of 1.62 at the age of 40 is a nice value. Normally, we expect to have 1 egg for every 300 micrograms per milliliter of estradiol, so in this case, we would probably expect to have 6 or 7 mature oocytes. Unfortunately, this doesn’t tell about the quality, if we have, let’s say 6 eggs with 2000 picograms per milliliter, it’s in line. When we have a correspondence between the hormonal levels and the number of eggs, that’s usually a good sign, and it’s a good prognosis. The exact response on the egg quality, we will only get either from the genetic testing or from the embryo quality that we obtain in the lab. Sometimes, the eggs are fragile, and they can degenerate. It happens especially in women at an advanced age when we start manipulating them, for example, by doing ICSI. Without looking at the case, I cannot give you an opinion, but usually, when they start to degenerate, it means that those eggs were not viable. They would never originate their pregnancy through a natural conception. In some cases, we only have eggs like that, some other patients have a few eggs like that and a few normal ones, and it’s really hard to tell. This has to do also with the lab conditions, we would need to have more information to be able to give a fair opinion. Starting from the beginning, so 450 units of Menopur per day is a lot. In theoretical terms above 300, we will not get a better response. Usually, at our clinic, we use 375, just to be a little bit over the theoretical limit of 300 hundred, some doctors try 450, that’s a respectable decision. It’s not only about the Menopur, but we also have to think of the rest of the protocol, whether it was a long protocol or a short protocol, and in the case of a short protocol, but there are also different types. At Ferticentro, we don’t like to convert to IUI, even if we just have 1 follicle. We prefer to do the egg pickup, it’s our policy because we do have pregnancies with just 1 egg being collected, just one embryo, and so we prefer to do it instead of an IUI because the ICSI method is a lot more effective. This is a common practice, it’s a respectable opinion from other doctors. A lot of clinics worldwide are doing this. We just feel that it’s preferable to collect the egg, it’s all about optimizing the process because clearly, you want to get pregnant with your own eggs instead of moving to egg donation. If you only have 1, we would try to use that one egg as best as possible. I do agree with what you’ve stated at the end. There is evidence that says that repeated attempts, consecutive attempts, tend to optimize the ovarian response. So yes, this previous attempt could have worked as priming for your ovaries and subsequent new stimulation. Especially, in the 3 months after this previous one will certainly have a better response from the ovaries. Sometimes, it’s hard to predict whether this will make a difference or not, but I do think it’s worth trying. If we’re only getting 1 egg after an aggressive stimulation, we can also think of changing the protocol. Possibly they already tried that, but in principle, it would be an indication to try egg donation.

What number of mature eggs a 40-year-old needs to get a blastocyst? What percentage of eggs (MI or MII) survive after freezing?

We don’t know how many eggs we need to get a blastocyst. In theory, 1 could be enough. On average, at our clinic for older women, we can have a blastocyst rate of 40-45%, it also depends on the male side. Maybe 30% of the eggs will turn into blastocysts, it’s hard to tell. At Ferticentro, we have more or less 90% of survival of egg vitrification. We don’t vitrify MI (metaphase 1) eggs. We only work with metaphase II eggs. On the other hand, I don’t see any reasons why the metaphase I eggs wouldn’t survive vitrification, so I would say it’s 90%.

Does a dose of FSH of 300 IU differ from a result to a dose of 325 IU? Is this dose too high?

It’s the maximum dosage. Theoretically speaking, above 300 international units, all the FSH receptors on the ovaries are already occupied, and so it’s pointless to increase after that. Sometimes, we go a little beyond because some patients could be outliers, and they might respond a little better to 375. We’ve tried higher dosages we haven’t seen a difference, so this is why we usually don’t go over 375. 325 is a little higher. I would say that it could make sense, and based on what you have mentioned, I wouldn’t say it is too high for such a case, as yours but again, we don’t know about your specific situation.

Is a low dose of FSH often better when it comes to a number of mature eggs than a high dose?

Those are different treatment strategies, we also do mild stimulation IVF. In some cases, there’s a theory that it’s preferable to try to get 1 good quality egg instead of many bad quality ones. It’s never a first-line approach because most studies indicate that the more eggs we get, the better results we have until a certain level. Recent studies are saying that there is no upper limit on the number of eggs on the dissociation between the number of eggs and the odds of pregnancy, but for quite a long time, we thought the ideal number would be between 8 and 15, so obviously when we’re not getting good quality eggs, and we’re getting a good number of eggs, sometimes we resource to mild stimulation IVF. In those cases, we give the minimum medication necessary, and we try to go in a very controlled and balanced way with just one follicle, hoping that it will work better than the other ones. More or less, 10 years ago, we did many of these cycles at Ferticentro, results were nice, but as I said, this is not a first-line approach. This is something that we use for patients that have a history of poor embryo quality. These days we are focusing more on testing the embryos, but again this is something that we can also do.

Could a sperm donor be a known person(family member) in Portugal? What about the egg donor?

No, the Portuguese law states that donors are not anonymous in the sense that at the age of 18, the children born from the donations have the right to access the identity of the donor, that access is granted by the Portuguese IVF authority, but this means that the donor is anonymous for everybody but the children. This is a right of the children, not the right of the parents, and so if it were a known person, we would be disclosing the identity of the donor before the children reach the age of 18, so it’s not possible to do what we call a direct donation. It’s the same with an egg donor. We can only disclose the donor’s identity when the children born from a donation reach age of 18. This is the same in many European countries like the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Denmark has a mixed system. I think in 10 years from now, all countries will have non-anonymous donations. The anonymous donations don’t make sense in the actual times, not for the children, not for the family, not for the donors. I think it will end soon, hopefully.

Is there a maximum follicle size allowed at egg retrieval for viable eggs? Could eggs become overmature?

Yes, sometimes, follicles can grow too big. Typically, we trigger ovulation when we have follicles at 17 millimeters. We often have a mixed population of big follicles and follicles that are smaller, and so we try to bet on the population that gives us a better probability of finding better quality and a better number of eggs. There are some other more recent strategies like dual stimulation, but we’re still living the early days of those strategies. Ideally, we’re talking about 17 millimeters above a diameter, I cannot tell you whether it’s 20 or 21, or so but above a certain limit, the risk of the eggs starting to degenerate increases. There’s this optimal moment to trigger the ovulation, and that’s certainly between 17-19 millimeters.

What is the cost of IVF with a female egg donor in Portugal?

At our clinic (Ferticentro), we have many programs, but it will depend on the guarantees that are included. We have two blastocysts guarantee program that costs 6440 EUR, and we have 5 blastocysts guarantee program, that costs 10840 EUR. In the lab, we always do the same, we don’t have first category donors or second category donors, all of our donors are subject to a very complete selection process. The difference between these programs is on the obligations of the clinic. If we only get 3 blastocysts and the patient has paid for 5 blastocysts guarantee, the couple is entitled to have as many cycles as necessary to achieve the 5 blastocysts. On average, we have 4-5 blastocysts, but obviously, we’re dealing with human cells, so a lot can happen, and so this is why we focus our guarantees not on the number of eggs but the result of the number of good prognosis embryos. If those blastocysts are not good prognosis embryos, we will not use them. We also have programs where if you don’t have a baby, you get all your money back, but those are more expensive, they cost 15 000 EUR. We work with a British company called Access Fertility on that.
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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.
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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.