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New Oxford technique for IVF babies

London: The first babies have now been born in the UK using a new technique pioneered at Oxford University to select the best embryos for IVF.

The advance could bring hope to many couples struggling to have a child and going through many cycles of IVF treatment, a university release said.

George and Helen Ashton from Gloucestershire are thought to be the first couple to have babies in the UK after using a technique called microarray CGH with IVF embryos five days after fertilisation.

The technique allows the embryos to be checked for the right number of chromosomes before implantation in an IVF treatment, lessening the chance of miscarriage or Down?s syndrome.

The Ashtons had twins last November following treatment at the Oxford Fertility Unit, an independent IVF clinic which maintains strong research partnerships with the University.

The boys, Alex and Louis, are now 11 weeks old. The strategy of applying microarray CGH, or comparative genomic hybridisation, to five-day-old embryos, or "blastocysts", was developed by Dr Dagan Wells and Dr Elpida Fragouli at the University of Oxford.

"If a sperm and egg come together and produce an embryo with the wrong number of chromosomes, the embryo will usually fail to establish a pregnancy or miscarry," explains Dr Dagan Wells of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology As with routine IVF treatment, several eggs are produced and fertilised.

Five days later at the blastocyst stage, a small number of cells are removed from the growing embryo and microarray CGH is used to check for any significant abnormalities present in the chromosomes.

In effect it scans the DNA packed up in the cells` chromosomes for any clear problems. Results are available 24 hours later. Based on this information, it is possible to make sure that only embryos with the correct number of chromosomes are transferred in IVF, improving pregnancy rates as a result.

Tim Child, director of the Oxford Fertility Unit and a senior fellow at the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Oxford University, said: "We are proud that Oxford Fertility Unit was the first clinic in the UK to use blastocyst chromosome screening successfully. We have a number of couples who have already given birth to babies using this method and we look forward to helping many more."

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