First Aussie baby born through 'low-cost IVF alternative'

The innovative fertility treatment, CAPA-IVM, has higher rates of success and is more than half the price of IVF.

An Aussie family are celebrating the first baby in the country to be born through what is being dubbed a "low-cost IVF alternative".

Leanna Loutas, alongside partner Theo, welcomed their daughter Bonnie Mable on October 23. They hope to be the first of many Australian families who have struggled to conceive to have a child through the innovative new fertility treatment, called CAPA-IVM.

The announcement comes as recent data suggests that as may as one in nine couples experience fertility problems when trying conceive a baby in Australia —equal to about two million people.

And while would-be parents nowadays are lucky enough to have access to emerging technologies and modern treatment plans to help them conceive, they often come with hefty price tags. For many Aussies, the price of these treatments — such as IVF — is simply not affordable. For others, it can take months to save up.

Leanna and her partner Theo, with their newborn Bonnie.
Leanna and her partner Theo, with their newborn Bonnie – Australia's first CAPA-IVM baby. Source: Supplied.

Due to the variations between providers and the fact that each patient's needs are different, it's hard to approximate exactly how much IVF costs the average Aussie, though estimates range from between $5000 to $10,000 per cycle.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to grip the nation, with stubborn rates of inflation proving more difficult than expected to drive down, couples trying to conceive but without the budget to do so have been left with few places to turn — until now.

Aussie first CAPA-IVM baby welcomed in Sydney

Just last week, in an Australian first, a baby conceived via a new clinical procedure to treat infertility was born in Sydney, at the Royal Hospital for Women at Randwick. Estimated to amount to half the total cost of IVF, CAPA-IVM (capacitation in-vitro maturation) is only offered at six hospitals around the world.

Not only is CAPA-IVM much cheaper, it requires only two days of hormone treatment, compared to two weeks of in an IVF cycle, so "the burden is much less on the patient".

Ms Loutas said the ability to skip the stress of two weeks of hormone injections was a major factor in making the decision to go down the treatment path.

Treatment 'a lot less daunting', new mum says

“I was going to take a break before trying IVF again as I didn’t want all of the side effects of the hormones while traveling,” Ms Loutas said. "When I was offered CAPA-IVM, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I would only need to do two days of injections. It made the whole process seem a lot less daunting.

“The treatment was a success and we were able to freeze two embryos. It was the best Christmas present we could have possibly had.

“We feel hugely privileged and grateful to have been given this opportunity. Hopefully we’re the first of many to come and when other people hear about our story it will give them encouragement”.

Professor Professor Robert Gilchrist holding baby Bonnie.
Professor Robert Gilchrist's research breakthrough led to the development of CAPA IVM. Source: Supplied.

'Blood, sweat and tears' went into groundbreaking research

Professor Robert Gilchrist whose research breakthrough at The University of New South Wales (UNSW) led to the development of CAPA IVM, said he’s "excited, and relieved".

“Many years of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this. Countless hours of research over two decades, so this is a very proud moment,” Professor Gilchrist said, who worked in collaboration with researchers from Saigon and Brussels on the project.

“To be able to take a discovery from the lab into a clinic, and make a real difference for Leanna on her fertility journey and other women who will follow, is very special”.

Standard IVM has long been a treatment option outside of Australia, but CAPA-IVM is considered a major "step forward" because it uses newer scientific advancements, and, pregnancy rates per cycle are higher.

“The problem has been when you take an egg out of the human body it matures very quickly, even when it may not be ready to," Professor Ledger, The Royal’s head of Reproductive Medicine, explained.

"But the CAPA method switches off the progression of the egg for 24 hours. So it grows more slowly, and it matures more healthily,” he said, adding that being able to take an egg out of the ovary before it has reached maturity makes the process a lot easier on patients.

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