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Our Fertility Research Leads to the Most Up-To-Date Infertility Treatments for Patients

Written By: Women & Infants Fertility Center on November 3, 2020

Conducting clinical research while treating patients is the ultimate combination to ensure the most up-to-date care for infertility patients. The fellows and physicians at Women & Infants Fertility Center share their findings and perspectives with each other so each patient ultimately receives input from a team of learned providers.

Why is clinical fertility research important for infertility treatment?

Seeking care at a world-class academic center like Women & Infants Hospital means you’ll receive the latest treatments available. One main reason is that research studies and the collection of comprehensive clinical data from multiple doctors are integral parts of the operating missions of both the hospital and our Fertility Center.

When it comes to infertility treatments, it behooves patients to consider a fertility center at which research is a core value. Reputable providers follow evidence-based medicine and guidelines to ensure patients receive the highest quality care.

At our clinic, academic fellows and physicians practice medicine while continually conducting studies and reviewing literature. Their fertility treatment recommendations are based on properly performed trials with data to support the intended outcomes.

“Patients should want the best treatment based on trials,” says Dr. May-Tal Sauerbrun-Cutler, who is board certified in reproductive endocrinology & infertility (REI) at Women & Infants Fertility Center. “There’s so much misinformation out there about fertility treatments, a lot of it about new interventions. But those may not be helpful and possibly could be harmful.” (Do your own research so you won’t get scammed or frauded.)

Here are some of the latest research projects going on at the clinic.

Fertility research on chemo, stress and resting female eggs

Dr. Meghan Ozcan is in her research year of her fellowship at our clinic. Her research interests include epigenetics (heritable changes in gene activation/deactivation), specifically the impact environmental stressors and diet can have on fertility and sub fertility. Currently she’s working on three research projects.

  • Cancer and fertility. Preserving fertility in the face of cancer is a mission and a passion for Women & Infants Fertility Center. Some women are diagnosed before pregnancy, and unfortunately, some are diagnosed during pregnancy. These patients have to make tough decisions that can affect their health, their future fertility and the health of the unborn child.

Dr. Ozcan is using a mouse model to test the impact of the most common chemotherapy agents and regimens on the number and quality of eggs in the ovaries of the fetus. Her goal is to use her findings to empower patients and take fertility preservation into the next generation.

  • Resting eggs. Dr. Ozcan is also investigating a novel gene and protein that is expressed in the inactive eggs in a girl’s ovaries from birth through her reproductive years. “We are born with all the eggs we’ll have for the rest of our lives, but the process of maintaining them is still poorly understood,” Dr. Ozcan explains.

She is exploring in mice whether any changes in the gene’s functionality affect a female’s long-term ovarian reserve. “I hope the findings will eventually translate into insights for our patients,” she says.

  • Stress and infertility. Dr. Ozcan invites new patients to join her study of the use of an online stress management and counseling tool to minimize stress caused by infertility. “The stress of infertility is significant,” she says. “We want to know if an online tool helps improve the quality of life for patients suffering with infertility.”

Patients of Women & Infants Fertility Center can join the study by contacting the office for the online study link. That link will take users to a scheduler to set up a time for the clinic to call for consent and enrollment.

Related Reading: After the Storm of Infertility & Stress, a Rainbow Baby

Investigating immune regulatory T-cells in the endometrium

Dr. May-Tal Sauerbrun-Cutler was a fellow at our clinic before becoming our newest reproductive endocrinologist on staff. As an academic fellow, she split her time between treating fertility patients and researching how immune cells affect infertility.

Some of Dr. Sauerbrun-Cutler’s research focused on a type of immune cell called a regulatory T-cell that lives in the innermost lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium. “Immune cells contain factors that could help determine which women will conceive and which won’t,” she says. One of her studies revealed that a woman’s pregnancy rate could decrease if there are too few regulatory T-cells in the endometrium prior to embryo transfer.

While her findings are preliminary, Dr. Sauerbrun-Cutler says her research provides perspective that reproductive immunology could play a role in some fertility disorders. “That’s important,” she says. “I can share this perspective with my patients, especially those who have recurring implantation failures and haven’t found a source for these failures.”

Insights into ICSI, egg donation & IVF success rates

Dr. Jennifer Eatons research has focused on using national data to examine factors that influence a woman’s odds of achieving a “good perinatal outcome,” defined as a full-term birth of a single infant with normal birthweight. Dr. Eaton is the chair of the research committee of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), which reports data for over 90% of fertility clinics in the United States. As such, she is nationally renowned for her expertise in assisted reproductive technology (ART).

Her research has previously demonstrated that the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) does not influence the risk of prematurity or low birth weight. Her work has also shown that the chance of a good perinatal outcome is slightly lower with frozen donor eggs as compared with fresh donor eggs.

Dr. Eaton currently has several ongoing projects using national data to determine the impact of various other factors on IVF success rates and birth outcomes.

Improving care and fertility treatment for the next generation

While a lot of research is meant to ultimately benefit the patient, some studies are done for the benefit of doctors. For instance, Dr. Carol Wheeler enlisted the residents at Women & Infants Hospital in a multi-center trial to see how effective an online, self-paced education module would be to teach pediatric and adolescent gynecology to medical residents.

Most OB-GYN residents receive very little education in the field of pediatric and adolescent gynecology. Dr. Wheeler and her cohorts set out to determine whether the availability of the online module would improve OB-GYN residents’ knowledge about pre-pubertal vaginal bleeding, how to perform a pre-pubertal genital exam, vaginal culture collection and other skills.

Ninety-seven residents enrolled in the study. Nearly half were randomly selected as a control group; the others were placed in an interventional group, meaning they were required to take the online training.

The study found that the group that underwent the interventional training scored significantly higher on their final assessments than the control group

“The findings from this research will ultimately benefit infertility patient care by enabling more physicians to be better trained in how to talk to, diagnose and treat girls with gynecologic problems,” Dr. Wheeler says. Gynecologic issues such as developmental anomalies can alter a girl’s future reproductive potential, and managing them properly from the beginning is critical. As academic physicians, we are always teaching our residents and students how to care for women of all ages. This study helps us learn the best teaching methods.