6 September 2019

First-of-its-kind IVF research examines potential for antioxidants to improve pregnancy success

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Melbourne IVF

World-renowned researcher and Melbourne IVF Scientific Director Professor David Gardner explains the significance of investigating the role antioxidants play in early embryo development, whether they may improve pregnancy success for infertile couples having IVF treatment, and how this world-first study is stepping-up recruitment for patients, ahead of Women’s Health Week (2-6 September).

Professor Gardner said after pilot studies demonstrated the safety of antioxidants in the laboratory, showing promising results with antioxidant-rich culture media, compared to standard culture media, we have started a larger study.

We have commenced a large scale study at Melbourne IVF to test if a particular combination of antioxidants used in the IVF procedure can help more patients get pregnant,” explained Professor Gardner.

“Most women are aware of the wellness properties of antioxidants, and can find them in dietary supplements and even in their skincare products,” said Professor Gardner. 

“The benefits of antioxidants are renowned; naturally occurring antioxidants protect cells and tissues from oxidative damage, caused by oxygen-containing free radicals. Oxygen, although a life-giver, is quite toxic in creating these free radicals.

Antioxidants play a significant role inside our bodies, naturally fighting off cell-damaging free radicals. Healthy bodies are well-equipped to fight free radicals but in the laboratory, sperm, eggs and embryos don’t have that luxury.

Over the last thirty years, I’ve researched several strategies to protect the embryo during its development in the lab. When it comes to antioxidants we have typically focused on one antioxidant at a time. However, more recently we have concentrated on a specific group of antioxidants which can work together for greater effect.

“Melbourne IVF has set-up a randomised controlled trial investigating whether three antioxidants together - acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) and α-lipoic acid (ALA) - added to embryo culture fluid has beneficial effects on sperm, eggs and the resulting embryos,” said Professor Gardner. 

The study has recruited its first 400 patients, with a total patient target of 1,200, and is being conducted in the controlled laboratory environment at Melbourne IVF, utilising the latest in time-lapse incubators, the EmbryoScope+, providing the best possible environment for the growth of embryos.

The trial is only available to Melbourne IVF patients who are undergoing IVF or ICSI treatment. Professor Gardner said the trial is playing a crucial role in IVF medical research.

“I’m delighted that Melbourne IVF is spearheading this important research, to see if antioxidants can play a role in improving the quality of embryos and pregnancy outcome,” said Professor Gardner.

If you are interested in participating, or would like to know more about this study, please speak with your doctor or contact our research team at [email protected]

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