Embryo glue – does it work or not?
Does embryo glue really work? We were initially sceptical. A low-cost product that helps your embryo to implant? It sounded too good to be true. For fertility expert Robert Winston, it was. ‘The embryo does not need glue to attach itself to the uterus’, he blogged. For him, the embryo is master of its own destiny. ‘Adding substances is a very simplistic and unlikely solution.’
But embryo glue has grown up. A few years ago, we would have told you to save your money. Today, we’re seeing the roll-out of embryo glue to more and more fertility clinics, updated research and positive feedback from patients. We’ve changed our mind.
If the idea of having an embryo glued into you doesn’t appeal, don’t panic. Despite its name, embryo glue isn’t really a glue at all. It’s a specially developed solution that contains, among other things, high levels of a substance called hyaluronan, also known as hyaluronic acid.
Hyaluronan occurs naturally in your womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Studies have shown that it makes secretions from these organs stickier, aiding fertilisation and implantation. Embryo glue mimics those uterine secretions. On your embryo transfer day, your embryos are dipped into the ‘glue’. Then they’re placed in your uterus. The adhesive effect of the medium may help your embryos stick to your endometrium.
Simple idea. Good name. Patients understand the concept. If embryo glue helps your embryo and womb hit it off for longer, rather than drifting apart at the crucial moment, we call that implantation-friendly.
You might have come across hyaluronic acid in the earlier stages of your pregnancy journey. It’s used in some forms of lubricating gel products supposedly to boost your conception chances after sex. The levels in embryo glue are more highly concentrated.
Like every new product or technique sold to the fertility sector, embryo glue has faced opposition. A 2012 study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics and Gynaecology cast doubt on its effects. That gave marketers of the product a very bad morning.
But more recent research suggests otherwise – and it certainly swayed us. For example, a review carried out by the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Sub-Fertility Group, published in the respected Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2014, showed more promising results.
The review explored the benefits of assisted reproduction techniques involving adherence compounds (including hyaluronic acid) and their effect on embryo implantation. The results of 17 studies were analysed and compared. The authors concluded that the evidence does suggest that clinical pregnancy and live birth rates are improved by the use of hyaluronic acid. Other studies suggest embryo glue may be particularly beneficial for women who’ve had repeated implantation failure or unexplained infertility.
Let’s talk money. The good news is that, like an endometrial scratch, embryo glue is a relatively low-cost fertility add-on. It’s not going to break the bank. Clinic fees are around £150 to £250.
Our thinking is this. At that price-point, clinics may be thinking more about their success rates than their bank balances. Although embryo glue will boost clinic revenues, any uplift in live-birth rates is good for business. They know that fertility patients are increasingly guided by the stats. So if they see value in an affordable product, perhaps we should to. It doesn’t seem like money for nothing.
The success stories about embryo glue are encouraging. It’s still relatively new. Research into its benefits is continuing. But if you’ve had failed IVF attempts, or issues with implantation, we reckon it’s worth serious consideration. Speak to your clinic.