Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) infertility treatment is very similar to IVF in that eggs are collected from the female and mixed with sperm. However, the important difference with GIFT is that the egg/sperm mix is immediately returned to the fallopian tubes, and therefore fertilisation takes place within the woman’s body, rather than in the lab.
GIFT is an ideal treatment for women who would like to conceive as naturally as possible, or who have religious or ethical issues relating to conventional IVF, as there is no ‘selection’ or manipulation of embryos and there are no ‘unused’ embryos created. There are, however, no particular medical benefits to natural fertilisation compared to assisted methods.
This article on GIFT infertility treatment is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Who can benefit from it?
GIFT can help overcome many of the same infertility problems as IVF, including:
- Ovulatory disorders
- Low sperm mobility or low sperm count
- Hostile cervical mucus
- Age-related issues
- Other problems with traditional conception such as physical disability
GIFT can also help women with endometriosis, as long as this has not affected the workings of the fallopian tubes.
GIFT is not appropriate for women with blocked or damaged fallopian tubes or uterine problems such as adhesions.
The success of the procedure is similar to conventional IVF, with a pregnancy rate of around 20-30% per cycle. This will naturally vary with factors such as age, the quality of the eggs and sperm, and the nature of the original problem.
A complete cycle of GIFT infertility treatment takes around 20-25 days, typically starting on the third day of menstruation.
Stage 1 – Ovary Stimulation
The ovaries usually produce just one egg per cycle, so medication is used to stimulate multiple eggs to develop. Ovary growth is monitored using ultrasound for around ten – fourteen days of injections, and hormone levels are checked.
Stage 2 – Egg Collection
When the ovary and eggs are mature, the eggs are collected. This is done through the vagina, using a needle guided by ultrasound, and takes around twenty minutes.
Stage 3 – Egg and Sperm Combination
Up to three eggs are combined with sperm straight away at a ratio of around 200,000:1. The resulting mixture is then immediately returned to the mother’s fallopian tubes by laparoscopy. This involves a small incision in the abdomen, through which a thin instrument, called a laparoscope, is inserted to ensure the mixture is deposited in the right place. The procedure takes place under a local anaesthetic and the patient should be able to go home the same day.
Stage 4 – Fertilisation
Fertilisation then occurs naturally within the fallopian tubes, as one or more of the eggs combine with the sperm.
Stage 4 – Pregnancy test
After two weeks, a standard pregnancy test can be conducted to assess the result of the procedure.
One of the main drawbacks of GIFT is that if the procedure is unsuccessful, it may be hard to determine why. Unlike conventional IVF, fertilisation takes place within the body and therefore cannot be monitored as closely. Some clinics recommend IVF as a first cycle of treatment to establish that fertilisation will take place, increasing the chances of a successful GIFT treatment at a later date.
Another important consideration with GIFT is the invasive nature of the procedure. It is highly unlikely that infection or other complications will occur, but you should be aware that, as with any other invasive procedure, these risks do exist.
As with IVF, the success rate of this infertility treatment is approximately 20% to 30%, and it is therefore important to be realistic in your expectations. Just like traditional conception, it can take time and patience.
Successful treatments can also have complications, including an increased risk of multiple births, although this is less than the risk with conventional IVF as not all the eggs are guaranteed to be fertilised. The multiple birth rate with GIFT is around 17% compared to 50% with IVF and 3% from natural conception.
Other problems may arise from over-stimulation of the ovaries and there is also an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo lodges in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus).
Private GIFT treatment costs may be higher than IVF, at up to £5,000 per cycle. However, since GIFT does not require a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, you are more likely to find a clinic close to home, reducing travel costs and inconvenience.