With an action-packed agenda, the 8th International IVIRMA Congress took place in Mallorca in April 2019. Buzzing with excitement about new developments in reproductive medicine, the Congress gathered over 1,600 specialists representing 71 different nationalities to discuss the future of Assisted Reproduction. Delegates shared information about topics as far-ranging as ovarian rejuvenation, IVI’s sustainable development goals and new technological developments in embryo selection. Scientific papers were presented on the topics of extracellular vesicles and how they may advance IVF success rates, as well as the futuristic topic of gene editing and how this new science may unfold in the future.
IVIRMA presented awards for outstanding achievements in advancing the field of reproductive medicine, as well as media awards to recognise significant journalistic contributions to the knowledge and understanding of the field.
Can extracellular vesicles act as a biomarker for embryo selection?
One of the scientific highlights of the conference was a presentation by Diego Marin of New Jersey and IVIRMA CEO Dr. Richard T. Scott. Their project involves searching for a biomarker that improves the ability to select the embryos with the most potential for successful implantation, from a group of embryos already confirmed to be free of genetic problems. Currently, such embryos have an implantation success rate of 70%.
During their research into this relatively new field of study, the team examined the role of extracellular vesicles – these are particles derived from membrane cells which secrete molecules. These particles have an important role in intercellular communication between the maternal endometrium and the embryo, an interaction which is crucial for successful implantation and a normal full-term pregnancy. The project aims to study the activity of the vesicles, which are present even before implantation takes place, in order to assess their potential as biomarkers for the embryos most likely to succeed. The exciting potential of this work is clear as it could lead to an increased percentage of successful IVF cycles.
Gene editing: horizon scanning for the future of assisted reproduction
One of the joys of a gathering like this is the stimulation that participants experience from the chance to discuss futuristic scenarios and possibilities that may at present be a glint in a research scientist’s eye but bear exciting promise for the future. One of these is the potential for ovarian regeneration, reviewed here in our IVI blog article which contains some notable ovarian rejuvenation success stories. The other, which was aired in the conference, is the field of gene editing; it is still in its infancy but is fascinating in its development potential.
The gene editing presentation focused on the work of Dr. Dagan Wells, member of the Congress Scientific Committee. Gene editing uses advanced technology that works rather like molecular scissors, so that damaged DNA can be replaced with healthy genes. Using this technology, it should be possible to analyse an embryo’s cells before transfer to the uterus, detecting and even putting right any problems. In theory, this can increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby.
The conference acknowledged that this kind of development gives rise to a great deal of controversy, as recently witnessed through the media coverage of the birth of a baby with modified DNA in China. However, events such as the IVIRMA congress provide an important platform for debate as they allow the scientific community to discuss potential benefits and ethical issues arising from this sort of technological advance. The presentation concluded by confirming that for the time being, this is an area for IVI to study, not because its clinical application is envisaged in the near future, but because of the insights it offers into the development and biology of human embryos.
IVI: Fully aligned with UN sustainable development goals
In keeping with an organisation that leads the field in forward planning and technological development, the IVI conference itself was set up on the principles of its own sustainability strategy. This is structured in line with the four areas of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These commitments were presented by the President of the 8th International IVIRMA conference, Dr. Javier Marqueta, who is also director of IVI Mallorca. They include:
- A zero waste philosophy which aims to minimise consumption of energy and materials and maximise opportunities for recovery, reuse and recycling.
- Helping to address climate change with a carbon neutral event using renewable energy sources and greenhouse gas compensation.
- Taking social responsibility measures, such as the removal of physical barriers, to promote the participation and support of local enterprises.
- Reducing environmental impact by prioritising local resources and reducing both plastic use and food waste.
And now for the awards …
The 2019 conference concluded on a celebratory note with the presentation of awards. The €50,000 prize in two categories recognises the contribution to the world of reproductive medicine from outstanding professionals in the fields of research and clinical practice.
This year Professor Ashley Moffett, who has been at the forefront of immunology research for over 25 years, won the prize for the best body of work in clinical research. The award recognised her work focusing on the cellular interactions between placental and maternal uterine cells. Professors Nuno Costa-Borges and Manuel Tena-Sempere received the award for the best basic scientific research in reproductive medicine. This recognised their respective achievements in new reproductive techniques and the hormonal mechanisms relating to puberty and the reproductive system.
The Journalist Sonsoles Echavarren won a media prize of €3,000 in the Maternal-Foetal Health category for her article on infant mortality in Navarra, and in the Reproduction category journalist Pilar Arranz won the prize for her article “Mujer en apuros busca bebé” [Distressed woman seeks baby].
Finding out more about IVI
Behind the scenes of a high-profile event like the International IVIRMA Congress, the work of IVI and its associates continues day in day out, in over 65 clinics in 11 countries worldwide. You can find out more about our research, treatments and successes by browsing our website, or if you would like to get in touch, just give us a call on 800 52 00 161 or use our online contact form and an adviser will contact you.