Low-cost IVF method wins Popular Science “Best of What’s New” award

Published: Nov. 13, 2014

A novel, low-cost method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) developed at the University of Colorado Boulder and successfully used in human clinical trials in Belgium has been awarded a “Best of What’s New Award” from Popular Science magazine in 2014 in the health category.

The IVF technology developed by Professor Jonathan Van Blerkom showed that low-cost IVF in developing countries can be feasible and effective, with baby delivery rates roughly the same as those achieved in conventional IVF high-cost programs. Van Blerkom worked with researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium as part of the Walking Egg Project, an effort to raise awareness surrounding childlessness in resource-poor countries and to make inexpensive, assisted reproductive technologies available and accessible for a much larger proportion of the world population.

Infertility in developing countries affects nearly 200 million women, according to the World Health Organization. The personal stigmas often attached to infertile women in such countries can cause them to be disinherited, abused and ostracized.

The low-cost culture system developed by Van Blerkom of CU-Boulder’s Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology, which can fit in a shirt pocket, is designed to go anywhere, including off the grid. The device, consisting of needles, tubing and glass tubes found in all medical clinics, is used to create culture conditions required for normal fertilization and embryogenesis using inexpensive, common chemicals.

In the first limited human trial, 17 healthy babies have been born to date using the technology, which will cost just a few hundred dollars or less in developing countries -- about 15 percent to 20 percent of the cost for regular IVF programs. In some instances the components for an IVF cycle will be provided at no cost, said Van Blerkom.

“For 27 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us  -- those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our view of what’s possible in the future,” said Popular Science Editor-in-Chief Cliff Ransom. “The Best of What’s New Award is the magazine’s top honor, and the 100 winners – chosen from among thousands of entrants -- each is a revolution in its field.”

Applications of the new system may go beyond the treatment of human infertility, said Van Blerkom. The new system will have applications in areas like animal husbandry and wildlife biology and management, including reproductive help for endangered species. No one involved with the Walking Egg project is paid or compensated for their efforts, he said.

For more information on the Popular Science award visit http://bestofwhatsnew.popsci.com/walking-egg-lab. For more information on Van Blerkom’s IVF research visit http://www.colorado.edu/news/releases/2013/07/08/low-cost-vitro-fertilization-method-developed-cu-may-help-couples.

Contact:
Jonathan Van Blerkom, 303-492-6664
jonathan.vanblerkom@colorado.edu
Jim Scott, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-492-3114
Jim.scott@colorado.edu