An Introduction to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) refers to using artificial methods to become pregnant. Typically, this definition includes the procedures that handle sperm and eggs, and not solely the use of medications. There are many procedures identified within the realm of assisted reproductive technology, including in vitro fertilization, egg donation and gamete intra-fallopian transfer.

The Purpose of ART Procedures

Many couples are infertile because of an inability to produce or release eggs or sperm, or from prior medical treatments that have damaged reproductive organs so that they do not function properly. Sometimes, a couple needs to eliminate a serious genetic disorder in an embryo to ensure a healthy, viable child. ART procedures assist infertile couples overcome these difficulties. Egg donation permits a woman with a healthy uterus to become pregnant; in vitro fertilization allows for the insertion of a fertilized egg in a couple that cannot get pregnant on their own, but shows no cause of infertility.

ART Procedure: Egg Donation

Egg donation is the process of a donor donating her eggs to a woman who does not produce eggs. The donor’s ovaries are stimulated using several injected and ingested medications. Subsequently, the eggs are retrieved in a procedure performed by a specialist. The egg is then fertilized with sperm and implanted in the recipient’s uterus. A donor can remain anonymous or be known to the recipients, and a recipient chooses the donor.

ART Procedure: In Vitro Fertilization

In vitro fertilization is similar to egg donation, but no egg donor is used. Instead, the infertile couple’s egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory after retrieval and then implanted in the woman’s uterus.

ART Procedure: Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer

Gamete intra-fallopian transfer uses the same procedure as in vitro fertilization, but the fertilized egg is placed into the woman’s fallopian tubes where it will descent and implant itself into her uterus. Again, the recipients' own eggs and sperm are used.

Drawbacks of ART Procedures

ART procedures are not guaranteed to be successful. Therefore, despite the very high expense and mental and physical impact they make on the body, a pregnancy still might not result. In addition to undergoing procedures, many patients must ingest numerous medications aimed to assist egg production or implantation in the uterus. These medicines can be expensive and might not be covered by insurance, and can strain a body’s natural processes and cause potential side effects.  Also, depending on the number of fertilized eggs implanted into a recipient, multiple births may result. Multiple birth pregnancies are higher risk pregnancies.

Benefits of ART Procedures

Many infertile couples would not be able to overcome the problem without ART procedures. Despite their intensity and the emotional and mental strain they can put on a couple, many couples become pregnant through ART procedures. Additionally, ART procedures can be repeated multiple times, or a new method can be tried if a previous ART procedure was unsuccessful.