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Visiting professor wins ScienceFather award for IVF research

Richard and Loan Hill Visiting Professor Urmila Diwekar

The most common technique, and often the last resort, for couples struggling to conceive a child is in vitro fertilization. However, despite many advances since the first IVF baby was conceived in 1978, the procedure is still expensive and has a success rate of around 20% to 35% on the first attempt.

But thanks to the work of Richard and Loan Hill Visiting Professor Urmila Diwekar, IVF treatments may soon be personalized to individual patients to increase their chance of success. Diwekar recently received a New Science Inventions Award from ScienceFather for her work developing a mathematical procedure to provide a customized drug dosage during an IVF treatment.

Diwekar explained there are four basic stages of an IVF treatment: superovulation, egg retrieval, fertilization, and embryo transfer. The superovulation step involves giving the patient drugs to stimulate multiple ovulation per menstrual cycle and she notes is a critical step for a successful IVF cycle.

“Although there are the general guidelines for dosage in the superovulation step, the dose is not optimized for each individual patient, and this can lead to complications such as overstimulation,” Diwekar said. “To overcome the problems of this general system, we created a customized model of the superovulation stage using the size distribution of eggs (follicles) obtained per cycle as a function of the chemical interactions of the drugs used and the conditions imposed on the patient during the cycle.”

After developing the model, Diwekar and her team examined clinical data from approximately 100 patients who had previously undergone IVF cycles. She said they then used the model to predict the FSD for the remaining days of the cycle and compared the real-world data to what their model predicted. Optimal drug dosage for each patient was predicted using the decision support tool based on the model.

They found the results of the customized models closely matched with the observed Follicle Size Distribution (FSD) and that the general dosage guidelines were often too high for individual patients.

“Our research from the first clinical trial found that the dosage predicted by using the model was 40% less than the recommendation made by the IVF clinicians, involved 75 % less testing, and obtained higher number of mature follicles” Diwekar said. “We are also seeing research being completed on the other three protocols involved in IVF and seeing promising results.  Second clinical trial for other protocols is underway”

The researchers published the study in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in a paper titled “Personalized medicine for in vitro fertilization procedure using modeling and optimal control.”

Additional authors include Apoorva Nisal and Vibha Bhalerao.