DIY Fertility Is So Hot Right Now

It makes treatments like IVF a lot more affordable.

DIY Fertility Is So Hot Right Now

Ilana Gordon

Ines Vuckovic/Dose

It makes treatments like IVF a lot more affordable.

Regardless of what shows like “Teen Mom” would have you believe, not everyone becomes pregnant easily. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.9% of women have received infertility services during their lifetimes. Out of the 3.9 million live births that take place in the United States each year, in vitro fertilization accounts for 1.5%.

Doctors began experimenting with fertility workarounds back in 1855, but it wasn’t until 1978 that they successfully delivered a baby conceived through in vitro fertilization. IVF is now an important treatment option for people with infertility and genetic problems, but the procedure comes at a steep price: In the US, each cycle of IVF costs about $12,400; in Canada, that same treatment costs approximately $16,000.

IVF remains significantly cheaper than adoption, which can cost families anywhere between $35,000 and $40,000, depending on whether they work with an agency or operate independently. However, IVF treatments are still too expensive for many people with infertility issues. Which is why it’s so significant that a budget-friendly alternative just opened for business in Canada.

Making babies (cheaper)

The city of Calgary is located in the southern portion of Canada’s Alberta province and is one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas. It’s also the home of Effortless IVF, a DIY fertility clinic that opened on Valentine’s Day this year.

A year prior, the clinic launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, offering supporters one round of IVF in exchange for a $4,000 donation. Within 65 days, the clinic attracted its first 100 patients, all of whom were willing to part with their hard-earned cash in the hopes of saving $12,000 on the procedure.

Effortless IVF began construction on the treatment center in Aug. 2016 and opened the walk-in clinic six months later. The fee for patients who did not contribute to the Kickstarter is $6,500 and the founders hope to open similar clinics in areas like Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

How it’s done

In a normal IVF treatment plan, a woman receives daily injections of hormones intended to stimulate her ovaries and increase egg production. Once the eggs are ready, doctors surgically remove them from her body, combine them with the man’s sperm in a petri dish and monitor for between three and five days. When the embryos are ready, they’re transferred into the woman’s uterus.

Effortless IVF utilizes the central tenants of IVF, but makes one notable adjustment: Instead of leaving the eggs and sperm to fertilize in a petri dish, they’re stored inside a capsule called an INVOcell and transferred to the woman’s vagina, which serves as a natural incubator.

This process is called intravaginal culture (IVC) and it allows the woman’s body to naturally regulate temperature, oxygen balance, pH levels and remove toxins. After five days, the capsule is removed and the best embryos are transferred into the uterus — the rest are frozen and saved for future use.

Before launching Effortless IVF, co-founder Jason Broome partnered with two fertility doctors at the Center For Assisted Reproduction in Bedford, Texas. Together, these three doctors randomly assigned 40 women to receive either IVC or IVF treatment to see how the procedures stacked up.

A study published in April 2016 in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics shows the treatments deliver very similar results: Classic IVF created more high-quality embryos, but birth rates were almost identical (IVF treatment produced 12 successful pregnancies; IVC produced 11.)

Why is IVC so cheap?

Effortless IVF streamlines the traditional IVF treatment plan in several ways. Generally, women undergoing IVF are prescribed large doses of drugs and receive multiple blood tests and ultrasounds throughout the process.

IVC patients, on the other hand, receive lower doses of drugs that are prescribed based on body weight; these patients undergo only one ultrasound, administered ten days after the INVOcell is inserted into the body. Lower drug dosages reduce the total overhead cost and also lower the risk of complications, thereby decreasing the need for constant monitoring in the form of blood tests and ultrasounds.

The clinic purposefully keeps administrative costs to a minimum, allowing them to pass further savings on to their clients. The clinic closes on weekends and assigns designated days for ultrasounds, embryo retrievals and embryo transfers.

IVC is not for everyone: Women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or obesity and couples requiring intracytoplasmic sperm injections will not benefit from the treatment. Still, IVC has the potential to save people with fertility problems a lot of money — and in a world where the future of health insurance is so uncertain, saving money on any form of healthcare is worth celebrating.