Pregnancy :: Fine-tuning fertility testing with take-home technology

A take-home fertility-testing kit under development in a Massey University laboratory will give women and couples further control over pregnancy planning.

Massey graduate Dr Delwyn Cooke and honorary research fellow Associate Professor Len Blackwell hope the kit will be available within the next two years, and will give women and couples increased control over pregnancy planning.

Under commercialisation by Manawatu BioTech Investment Ltd, the fertility testing kits test urine (in a similar way to pregnancy testing kits). The technology measures the metabolites (excreted components) of the hormones estrogen and progesterone to measure and define the most fertile period of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It will enable a greater degree of accuracy to methods currently used to pinpoint ovulation and optimum periods of fertility.

Dr Cooke says the existing methods of measuring temperature and mucus cycles are complicated by the fact they are often difficult to observe, are subjective, and that they often result in unnecessary periods of abstinence (in the case of using these methods to avoid pregnancy). “The temperature method picks up the post ovulatory rise in temperature and occurs after the period of peak fertility. This means it cannot be used as a direct aid for helping couples get pregnant, it is only used as a diagnostic test to tell a woman that she did have an ovulatory cycle. For avoiding pregnancy it is used as a marker for the end of the fertile phase, and most women use it in combination with the mucus method for picking up the beginning of fertility.”

Dr Cooke says the take-home kit will reduce the amount of stress involved in laboratory-based fertility testing, and will also reduce the cost of this type of testing. “Unlike laboratory assays it becomes feasible to monitor whole cycles on a day by day basis, and I also think it is appealing to the women as it does give them a feeling of control.”

Dr Blackwell says the user-friendly kits effectively “eavesdrop on the ovary”, to intercept chemical information between the brain and the ovaries which controls the menstrual cycle. He says estrogen is best tested by a function test of follicle growth, indicating that follicles are growing. The kits will accurately give women all the information they usually would only able to get from a laboratory-based series of blood tests.

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