In the final episode of Robert Winston’s fascinating series on IVF, the focus is on two couples who have spent several years trying for a baby. Whatever it takes (BBC1, 18th December 2006) follows Dee & Tim, and Yasmina & Aldwyn as they have interventions which, in Winston’s own words, are at the “outer reaches of fertility treatment”.
Dee and Tim elect to have their embryos tested using Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS), a variant of PGD, in which one cell is carefully rolled away from the embryo at the 8-cell stage. This approach allows doctors to tell whether the embryo has aneuploidy, that is an incorrect number of chromosomes (although technogical constraints mean that only 5 chromosome pairs can be tested at any one time). It is believed that checking the chromosome number at this stage may reduce the chance of a miscarriage at a later stage, although those involved in fertility treatment are not all convinced of the value of PGS. Sadly, all of Dee’s embryos have aneuploidy and they elect not to have any transferred to her uterus.
At the start of the episode, Yasmina and Aldwyn are already veterans of seven rounds of IVF. Desperate for a baby, they move on to the ARGC clinic run by Mohamed Taranissi, a leading UK fertility specialist. Dr Taranissi has controversial views regarding immune difficulties being a major cause of implantation problems and embryo rejection. He prescribes a batch of 17 blood tests for Yasmina and then puts her on a number of additional drugs, including steroids, and a transfusion of a human blood protein. Despite these extra treatments, this eighth round of IVF also fails. However, the news is not all bad; as the programme finishes Yasmina is expecting twins after further therapy.
Robert Winston also goes to visit a couple who tried unsuccessfully to have a baby using IVF (44:30-47:00). Before doing so, he poses the question “how many IVF failures do you allow a couple to go through before you advise them to stop?” (40:19-40:50). In this case, his ex-patients have reached fulfilment by adopting two boys. “For some couples, infertility can be a beginning, it doesn’t have to be an end” comments Winston.
There are a number of potentially useful clips within this episode. In terms of the technology (and the personal tragedy of failure), there is a very useful section from 31:55-39:55 where Dee’s embryos are screened by PGS. The wrong number of chromosomes is very clear to see; the fluorescent dots representing different chromosomes are not in regular pairs. The effects, and side-effects, of hormone treatment are vividly described from 11:00 to 15:10.