Louis Pasteur said that “chance favors the prepared mind.” For Prof. Nava Dekel of the Weizmann Institute’s Biological Regulation Department, some completely unexpected results of biopsies performed on women with fertility problems have led to a new path of scientific discovery that may hold hope for women trying to conceive.
Dekel and a research team that includes Drs. Yael Kalma and Yulia Gnainsky, working in collaboration with Drs. Amichai Barash and Irit Granot of the Kaplan Medical Center, had been investigating a protein they suspected plays a role in the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus - a crucial and sometimes failure-prone process. The team took biopsies at several stages in the menstrual cycles of 12 women with long histories of fertility problems and unsuccessful IVF treatments to see if levels of this protein changed over the course of the cycle.
Indeed, the team’s research went according to plan and they found evidence pointing to the protein’s role. The surprise came soon after: Of the 12 women participating in the study, 11 became pregnant during the next round of IVF. The idea of biopsy incisions, basically small wounds, leading to such a positive outcome was counterintuitive, and Dekel realized something interesting was happening. She and her team repeated the biopsies, this time on a group of 45 volunteers, and compared the results to a control group of 89 women who did not undergo biopsy. The results were clear: The procedure doubled a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant.
On the basis of this and other evidence obtained from previous studies, the scientists suggest that some form of mild distress, such as a biopsy, may provoke a response that makes conditions in the uterus favorable for implantation. Dekel and her team are now looking for the exact mechanisms involved when an unreceptive uterus turns receptive following local injury. They are conducting both animal studies and human clinical trials to identify genes that may play a role in this process. In the future, this accidental finding may give birth to new treatments to improve the success rate of IVF or even tackle some types of fertility problems directly.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.