The traditional IVF approach is to allow this meeting to take place ‘naturally’, albeit in a laboratory dish: the woman’s egg is placed in a special culture medium with a prepared semen sample containing thousands of sperm. The fittest sperm fertilises the egg, mimicking what would normally happen in the woman’s reproductive tract.
As its name suggests, ICSI is far more precise. Rather than leaving the egg and sperm to meet of their own accord in a laboratory dish, this technique allows us to directly inject a single sperm into a woman’s egg – thereby, overcoming any issues that may be getting in the way of a sperm and an egg meeting and coming together naturally. Here, we consider some of the reasons why ICSI may be considered during IVF and what specific fertility problems it can help overcome.
When a couple is experiencing difficulties getting pregnant, it can be easy to focus solely on the woman’s fertility. However, a male factor contributes to infertility in approximately 40% of couples who fail to conceive.1 ‘Male factor infertility’ typically involves an alteration in the number, shape and/or movement of the man’s sperm, all of which can affect the sperm’s ability to fertilise an egg the natural way. ICSI is most commonly used to help overcome these types of sperm-related issues.
ICSI may also sometimes be offered if a woman has very few eggs available (e.g. due to age). In this case, ICSI is used to increase the chances of successful fertilisation, thereby lowering the risk that the woman runs out of eggs before she achieves a successful pregnancy through IVF.
ICSI may also be recommended if one or more previous standard IVF cycles were not successful due to failed fertilisation, or if the reason for cycle failure is unclear but a sperm-related issue is suspected despite a normal semen analysis.2
If your doctor suspects male factor infertility could be affecting your chances of pregnancy, they will usually suggest a semen (sperm) analysis. This is the main method used to test male fertility. During the analysis, a number of different factors that could be affecting your ability to conceive naturally are studied, including:
Your specialist might also recommend additional testing for:
Depending on your results, your doctor may then order follow-up tests to make sure the results are accurate and/or to see if anything else is preventing the semen from doing its job.
Once the tests are complete, your specialist will discuss your results with you and explain what your options are, including whether ICSI is likely to increase your chances of successful fertilisation and the overall success of your IVF treatment cycle.
Because of ICSI, many previously infertile men now have a good chance of fertilising eggs with their sperm. With some couples, pregnancy rates as high as 45% have been achieved with ICSI.3 However, rates this high are not always possible because of other factors, including age and egg quality.
The fertilisation of an egg and its subsequent development into a growing embryo is a complicated process, and there are many reasons why IVF may not be successful, even with the assistance of ICSI. To aid our success rates at Newlife IVF, we:
If you are concerned about the possibility of male factor infertility or would like more information about the role of ICSI in an IVF treatment cycle, you can make an appointment with one of our fertility specialists by calling Newlife IVF on (03) 8080 8933. You can also book online via our appointments page.