Bourn Hall Clinic’s new service to help overcome recurrent miscarriage

Michelle and Alastair Rose with daughter Isobel, born after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, Colchester.

Michelle and Alastair Rose with daughter Isobel, born after IVF treatment at Bourn Hall, Colchester. Picture: Bourn Hall - Credit: Archant

To suffer even one miscarriage is heartbreaking but Michelle Rose lost ten natural pregnancies - and her first marriage failed under the strain.

So when she and Alastair Rose got together in 2007 they knew, because of her history, it wouldn’t be easy to conceive naturally and eventually decided to go down the IVF route. Their long-awaited daughter, Isobel Phoenix Rose, was born in 2012.

Michelle, 37, is one of a number of women who suffer the devastation of repeated miscarriage, often for reasons that cannot be fully explained.

Now fertility experts at Bourn Hall, which has clinics in Norwich, Colchester, Cambridge and King’s Lynn, is offering a new service that may give hope to some of those affected.

Although there are many reasons for recurrent miscarriage, a common cause is thought to be that the embryo has the wrong number of chromosomes, preventing it from developing correctly and causing the pregnancy to fail. Bourn Hall Clinic says it is introducing Pre-implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), which can detect chromosome abnormalities and help the embryologist select the embryo most likely to thrive.

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Science director Martyn Blayney says: “Embryos that have too few or too many chromosomes are known as aneuploid. The risk of this increases with age, but it may also be the result of smoking or other environmental factors. PGS may be advised for some patients, particularly those who have experienced recurrent miscarriage following a natural or IVF conception; repeated implantation failure or where the woman is over 35 and her egg quality is poor.”

Bourn Hall says it has teamed up with CooperGenomics, a global leader in reproductive genetics, to be one of only a handful of UK clinics to offer patients the new genetic test that will screen embryos for chromosome irregularities.

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The test takes place within the IVF cycle, after eggs have been fertilised and embryos grown for about five days in the incubator.

“A few of the cells that would otherwise have become part of the placenta are removed for testing in the CooperGenomics laboratory and in the meantime all the embryos are frozen,” says Mr Blayney. “The results are sent back to the embryologist at Bourn Hall and normal embryos identified for subsequent transfer in a frozen embryo transfer cycle.

“The scientific and medical evidence supporting the use of PGS is encouraging, but more robust clinical and laboratory trials are needed to assess whether or not PGS significantly increases live birth rates.”

Michelle, who lives in Stowmarket, doesn’t know if the new test would have helped her but says it’s definitely something she would have considered.

“Anything that could help stop someone going through the pain of repeated miscarriage has got to be good,” she says. “It’s a heartbreaking situation to find yourself in and you question why it’s happening to you. When you start trying for a baby you never even consider that could be a possibility.”

After losing ten natural pregnancies and one conceived through IVF Michelle was almost ready to give up her dream of becoming a mum. The emotional cost was becoming too great to bear. Fortunately, however, she was persuaded to have one last try.

“Isobel is absolutely brilliant,” says Michelle. “I’ve always wanted to be a mum and although it took 12 years of trying she has certainly been worth it”.

Michelle was referred for investigation at a London hospital in 2010. Tests revealed that only one fallopian tube was functional and that was damaged. All of her miscarriages, which had happened within 11 weeks, could in fact have been ectopic (when a fertilised egg implants itself outside the womb).

However, she says, no conclusive reason was given for her fertility problems and she and Alastair were told their only way to have a baby was by IVF.

The couple were referred for NHS-funded IVF and chose Bourn Hall’s Colchester clinic. They started their fertility treatment in January 2011. Sadly, that first attempt failed, when Michelle began bleeding soon after she’d had a positive pregnancy test. It turned out she’d had a chemical pregnancy, when a fertilised egg does not attach itself to the uterine wall.

“This was the first time I ever felt like giving up,” says Michelle. “But as it got nearer to us being able to try again I realised that if we didn’t take this opportunity we would regret it.”

In September 2011 the couple started their second cycle of NHS-funded IVF on a slightly different treatment plan, to try and improve the quality of eggs that Michelle produced. This time, it was successful. Isobel was born via emergency caesarean section on July 9, 2012 - five weeks prematurely after Michelle developed pre-eclampsia and her waters broke unexpectedly. Although she had arrived early and in dramatic fashion, their daughter was perfect.

“I have got my miracle,” says Michelle. “Thank goodness I never gave up.”

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