Research debunks some previously held notions

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Bettering the health of women and their families by improving the evidence base for clinical decisions on fertility treatments is an area the University has shone in. Leading the charge is Professor Cindy Farquhar, who is post-graduate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

As Professor Farquhar notes, one in 10 couples experience infertility. They often only have a small window of opportunity to have a baby, are faced with a large number of choices, and the treatments offered are usually not funded. “I describe fertility patients as vulnerable. They deserve the best possible information about effective treatments and alternatives to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF),” she says.

Professor Farquhar, who has been working in infertility research for 20 years, is also co-chair of the World Health Organisation fertility guidelines. She and her colleagues at the Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group have led the development of many clinical and epidemiological studies of couples with infertility.

Along the way they have debunked some previously-held notions, among them the Pipelle for Pregnancy study which evaluated a widely used technique of endometrial scratching for women undergoing an IVF cycle.

Working collaboratively with 13 IVF clinics in five countries, they found there was no benefit with intervention. “This treatment, although not expensive, was a waste of time for patients, and in addition caused a small amount of pain and bleeding,” Professor Farquhar says. It is understood the study she led has led to the abandonment of the practice.

Her work has also explored alternatives to IVF, such as intrauterine insemination, meaning a reduced burden of care.
Not everybody needs IVF, Professor Farquhar says. “We want to see the right woman get the right information at the right time in her life.”

Awards and research

Professor Farquhar’s work in the area of alternatives to IVF saw her awarded the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s prestigious Liley Medal at the Royal Society Te Aparangi 2018 Research Honours Aotearoa. The medal recognised her study into Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), published in The Lancet.

Read Intrauterine insemination in The Lancet.

The Pipelle for Pregnancy study - the biggest and most robust to date - was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read A Randomized Trial of Endometrial Scratching before In Vitro Fertilization (Pipelle for Pregnancy study) in the New England Journal of Medicine.