The decision to undergo IVF for pregnancy is the one which requires a lot of strength. All kinds of fertility treatments can be not just emotionally taxing but also physically draining and financially challenging as well.
So, what happens when IVF fails? The good news is that this isn’t necessarily the end of the journey for you. In fact, this is where immune testing for IVF can come into play.
Immune testing is a process in which your doctor will study the response of your immune system to better determine what is preventing you from becoming pregnant or causing recurrent miscarriages. Reproductive immunology requires a specialist fertility doctor and can determine issues that traditional fertility testing has not been able to detect.
Can the immune system cause infertility?
The short answer is yes. The immune system produces natural killer (NK) cells which help keep the body from developing cancer. These cells, can overpopulate the uterus, or present themselves in the bloodstream in excessive quantities, attacking the embryo, and can even interfere with the endocrine system. This results in reduced production of the hormones required for the developing fetus, and can consequently result in a miscarriage or a failed IVF.
What immune tests do I need prior to IVF?
There are a wide range of different immune tests available but the exact tests that are appropriate for you and your individual situation will be guided by your fertility doctor. They will complete a thorough review of your medical history, your previous test results, and any symptoms before suggesting their recommended immune tests.
The results from immune tests will guide your fertility doctor in the next steps.
How are NK cells tested?
Your fertility doctor will carry out a series of immune tests specific to you in order to identify any underlying immune issues. Some of the most common tests include:
- Natural Killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity assay And immunophenotype: The NK cell levels in your blood are tested. This test also examines the quantity of several white cell varieties in your blood. If these cells are found in high concentrations, reproductive issues may arise.
- TH1:TH2 cytokine ratio: This test measures the cytokine (chemical messengers present in the bloodstream) ratio in the body. The TNF-alpha in particular, a TH1 pro-inflammatory cytokine, has been associated with poor egg quality. Hence, if present in high levels, it may lead to unsuccessful implantation or miscarriage.
- Leukocyte Antibody Detection (LAD): This test measures the amount of antibodies that block samples of white cells from the mother and father As high rates of miscarriage and implantation failure have been correlated with low levels of blocking antibodies.
- Screening for autoimmune factors: Sometimes, untreated autoimmune diseases may increase the incidence of miscarriage, possibly as a result of higher TNF-alpha ratios. Tests for antinuclear antibodies (ANA) and anti-ds-DNA antibodies may be suggested by your fertility doctor to better assess the situation.
If any issues with the immune system are detected, appropriate immune therapy can then be organised and carried out by your fertility doctor.
So, when should I see a reproductive immunologist?
If you have suffered through 3 miscarriages or more than 3 failed IVF cycles, it may be time to consider a visit to a reproductive immunologist. You should also seek medical assistance if you have suffered from an immunological problem in the past. Many private clinics across the UK provide immune testing for IVF for couples who have undergone failed IVF cycles or pregnancies and want to increase their chances of conception.