Does assisted hatching increase the cumulative live birth rate in subfertile couples with repeated implantation failure?
This study showed no evidence of effect for assisted hatching as an add-on in subfertile couples with repeated implantation failure.
What is known already:
The efficacy of assisted hatching, with regard to the live birth rate has not been convincingly demonstrated in randomized trials nor meta-analyses. It is suggested though that especially poor prognosis women, e.g. women with repeated implantation failure, might benefit most from assisted hatching.
Study design, size, duration:
The study was designed as a double-blinded, multicentre randomized controlled superiority trial. In order to demonstrate a statistically significant absolute increase in live birth rate of 10% after assisted hatching, 294 participants needed to be included per treatment arm, being a total of 588 subfertile couples. Participants were included and randomized from November 2012 until November 2017, 297 were allocated to the assisted hatching arm of the study and 295 to the control arm. Block randomization in blocks of 20 participants was applied and randomization was concealed from participants, treating physicians, and laboratory staff involved in the embryo transfer procedure. Ovarian hyperstimulation, oocyte retrieval, laboratory procedures, embryo selection for transfer and cryopreservation, the transfer itself, and luteal support were performed according to local protocols and were identical in both the intervention and control arm of the study with the exception of the assisted hatching procedure which was only performed in the intervention group. The laboratory staff performing the assisted hatching procedure was not involved in the embryo transfer itself.
Participants/materials, setting, methods:
Participants were eligible for inclusion in the study after having had either at least two consecutive fresh IVF or ICSI embryo transfers, including the transfer of frozen and thawed embryos originating from those fresh cycles, and which did not result in a pregnancy or as having had at least one fresh IVF or ICSI transfer and at least two frozen embryo transfers with embryos originating from that fresh cycle which did not result in a pregnancy. The study was performed at the laboratory sites of three tertiary referral hospitals and two university medical centres in the Netherlands.
Main results and the role of chance:
The cumulative live birth rate per started cycle, including the transfer of fresh and subsequent frozen/thawed embryos if applicable, resulted in 77 live births in the assisted hatching group (n = 297, 25.9%) and 68 live births in the control group (n = 295, 23.1%). This proved to be statistically not significantly different (relative risk: 1.125, 95% CI: 0.847 to 1.494, P = 0.416).
Limitations, reasons for caution:
There was a small cohort of subfertile couples that after not achieving an ongoing pregnancy, still had cryopreserved embryos in storage at the endpoint of the trial, i.e. 1 year after the last randomization. It cannot be excluded that the future transfer of these frozen/thawed embryos increases the cumulative live birth rate in either or both study arms. Next, at the start of this study, there was no international consensus on the definition of repeated implantation failure. Therefore, it cannot be excluded that assisted hatching might be effective in higher order repeated implantation failures.
Wider implications of the findings:
This study demonstrated no evidence of a statistically significant effect for assisted hatching by increasing live birth rates in subfertile couples with repeated implantation failure, i.e. the couples which, based on meta-analyses, are suggested to benefit most from assisted hatching. It is therefore suggested that assisted hatching should only be offered if information on the absence of evidence of effect is provided, at no extra costs and preferably only in the setting of a clinical trial taking cost-effectiveness into account.
Study funding/competing interest(s):
Trial registration number:
Netherlands Trial Register (NTR 3387, NL 3235, https://www.clinicaltrialregister.nl/nl/trial/26138).
Trial registration date:
6 April 2012.
Date of first patient’s enrolment:
28 November 2012.