How do a sperm and an egg feel about hooking up in a test tube, under the bright laboratory lights, with white-coated scientists watching? Most of us would agree: this is not the most romantic of environments. Luckily, a new apparatus has been invented to improve the situation. It’s a silicone capsule called Anevivo, which is like a tiny bachelor pad for the egg and the sperm to hang out in, and get together — inside the womb, away from harsh lights and prying eyes.
One cool thing about this little love nest, about the size of a grain of rice, is that its silicone walls are full of holes,through which genuine human womb fluids flow in — rather than laboratory created fluids. Think of it as a high-tech hot tub. And while the capsule is not yet equipped with a wet bar, a sound system softly playing Ravel’s Bolero, and candles, researchers say it has some advantages.
For one thing, it can give couples a psychological boost, according to a recent story in The Telegraph. “It’s a real breakthrough as it enables women to care for an embryo in its earliest stages of development for the first time,” says Professor Nick Macklon, medical director at Complete Fertility Centre Southampton. “That is important psychologically, as it involves parents-to-be directly with the fertilization process and early embryo development.”
Moreover, it simulates a normal pregnancy when conception occurs inside the womb, where the egg and sperm have little contact with outside temperature, pressure and light. Plus, as natural fluid from the womb flows through the holes and surrounds the egg and sperm, they gain access to nutrients and signals from the mother. “We can reduce exposure to the synthetic culture fluids used in the laboratory,” notes Macklon, “and help to determine precisely what effect this may have.”
Test tubes still come into play, though. After 24 hours, the capsule is removed, and doctors select the most healthy embryo(s) for implantation into the womb lining of the mother.
Pascal Mock, the Swiss medical scientist who invented the device, says it gives couples greater dignity. “The early embryos start life in close contact with the mother, recreating the two-way exchange of fluids during the early stages of its development.”
It will be interesting to see how this technique catches on. “It’s promising, if used correctly,” says Geoffrey Trew, a consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at IVF Hammersmith, who notes that the idea of an insertable conception capsule was first considered as a low-tech way of introducing IVF into third world countries, where there are few high-tech labs with strict air quality control. “More data are needed,” he says, “to see real success rates, and to see how this compares to ‘traditional’ lab work.”
Bill Rogers is a Toronto-based lawyer, journalist, and family law mediator.