More MS news articles for Jan 2002

Enhancing Immune System Can Boost Fertility

January 8, 2002 8:00 CDT

A University of Chicago researcher says drugs that reduce an aspect of immune system activity could help many women facing infertility problems to give birth. Alan Beer studied women with unexplained infertility who failed to carry a child to term after recurrent IVF treatments.

Although fertilized embryos had been transplanted into their uteruses, these women repeatedly miscarried. Beer found that 70 percent of women with three IVF failures had elevated levels of an immune system chemical called tumor necrosis factor alpha. TNF alpha is involved in the immune inflammatory response.

People who suffer from autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis have higher than normal levels of TNF alpha. Beer suspected that the high levels could damage a developing embryo, and gave 100 fertility patients drugs that are often used to reduce TNF alpha levels, then repeated IVF treatments.

The results of the trial were released Monday at a meeting of the British Fertility Society in Nottingham, UK. Simon Thornton of the CARE fertility clinic at the Park Hospital in Nottingham says the data is impressive. Beer "has shown astonishing success rates in patients who would otherwise have had very low success rates", he told the BBC.

Thornton says reducing TNF alpha levels could even be an alterative to IVF for some women: "At present, we use IVF as a treatment for many patients who have unexplained infertility - but this may be a much more straightforward treatment to allow them to have a perfectly successful pregnancy."

But the immune system's impact on a pregnancy is complex, say fertility researchers. Last year, a team at the National Institutes of Health found that a hormone produced by the uterus wall and the developing embryo can trigger active killer T cells to commit suicide. The team think lower than normal levels of the hormone might explain some cases of recurrent miscarriage in women.

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