Like every new mother, Christina Shiels-Singh feels blessed when she looks into her baby daughter’s eyes. But Christina has a story to tell, and while it’s not conventional, it’s slowly emerging as a topic faced by many Canadian couples today.

For three years, Christina and her husband Rohan tried to have a baby. Christina faced a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome, a disorder that can cause infertility, and endometriosis, a condition where tissues normally found inside the uterus grows outside the uterus.

She tried intrauterine insemination (IUI), a procedure that places sperm inside the uterus at the time of ovulation four times, and in vitro fertilization (IVF) twice, a procedure that facilitates fertilization by combining an egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, and then transferring the embryo to the uterus. After all attempts failed, Christina had to undergo surgery to address the endometriosis.

Another attempt at IUI and IVF

After surgery, the couple decided to try IUI again, but the result was an ectopic pregnancy where the embryo was growing in one of Christina’s fallopian tubes.

This diagnosis required surgery to remove the fallopian tube, and Christina made the decision to remove the other one because it had cysts inside. Six months later, Christina and Rohan tried in IVF again. This time, it worked.

Their success in starting their family is testament to the value of medical care and assisted reproductive technology (ART). Thanks to advances in these areas, millions of people are becoming parents who would otherwise be challenged. The field has made major strides since the birth of the world’s first IVF baby that made international headlines in 1978, says Rehan Verjee, Managing Director of EMD Serono, Canada, a biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany that specializes in fertility products.

For example, a Vancouver woman recently gave birth to the first Canadian baby conceived with the help of the Early Embryo Viability Assessment (Eeva) Test. In this procedure, a time-lapse camera is attached to an incubator and takes snapshots of an embryo every five minutes for the first two days after it is created through IVF. That data is fed into an algorithm that assigns each embryo a grade. This helps fertility specialists determine which embryo is most likely to be successfully implanted.

New therapies to address infertility

EMD Serono, launched the Eevatest in Canada a year ago as part of a growing portfolio of therapies to support Canadian couples undergoing IVF.

“Of the 5 million or so IVF births worldwide since 1978, we have partnered in over 2 million,” says Verjee. “That's a major achievement that we are very proud of.”

Part of the fertility portfolio includes the recently launched app called trymester, which is designed to provide initial education on the causes of infertility and includes an ovulation tracker, clinic locator and other features. It also helps users connect quickly to leading experts in the field.

To develop the app, EMD Serono collaborated with leading physicians and fertility experts, and continues to work with patient advocacy groups to help infertile couples identify potential causes and understand available options. But the key to developing new and innovative solutions is through research, says Verjee.

“We can help support the development of innovative technology by working with academics and others to bring the science to patients, but also through initiatives where we continue supporting the advancement of more basic research efforts,” he says.

Bright future ahead for Canadian couples

Verjee sees a great need for procedures and devices that help Canadians facing fertility challenges and notes that one in six couples will need to seek medical support to start a family. But he also sees great hope for them. “There is really so much great science in this field,” he says. “I believe the future is very bright indeed.”