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The History of IVF: GIFT,  Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer

The marked increase in the success of IVF over time has been primarily due to significant advances in the IVF laboratory. Specifically, improvements in gamete and embryo culture conditions, embryo handling, and the catheters that we use to place embryos back into the uterus have enabled pregnancy rates to rise significantly.

In the mid 1980s, fertility programs around the world were continuing to struggle with poor success rates for IVF. It was universally accepted that the main factor inhibiting higher pregnancy rates was the length of time that embryos had to stay in the laboratory prior to being transferred back into the woman’s body. This was due to the fact that the longer embryos stayed in the laboratory, the more they were exposed to suboptimal environmental conditions. After much deliberation and experimentation in both humans and in animals, investigators at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio reported success with a procedure they called GIFT. Although GIFT technically stands for Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer, most patients referred to it as putting “Gametes Into the Fallopian Tube”.

This new procedure was offered to patients with at least one normal fallopian tube as an alternative to IVF. The majority of the basic steps of the GIFT procedure were identical to those involved in IVF. Patients were stimulated the same way, using the same fertility medications. After superovulation, however, the oocytes were collected laparoscopically rather than through the vagina. The eggs were then identified in the laboratory, and 2-4 oocytes with washed sperm obtained from the patient’s partner were then loaded into a transfer catheter. The catheter was then placed into the fallopian tube through its fimbriated end while the patient was still under anesthesia. If both tubes were normal, then half of the eggs and sperm were placed into one tube and half into the other tube. Patients then started progesterone supplementation and a pregnancy test was performed two weeks later.

Early studies demonstrated significantly higher pregnancy rates with GIFT, and as a result, its popularity spread rapidly. In addition, as fertilization occurred inside the woman’s body – specifically inside the fallopian tubes, just like in a naturally occurring pregnancy – this became an acceptable alternative to IVF for some Catholic patients.

Over time, due to the tremendous advances in the IVF laboratory, pregnancy rates for IVF have become much higher than those that were achieved with GIFT. In addition, IVF does not require either a laparoscopic procedure, general anesthesia, or the extended use of an operating room, making it safer, less invasive, and less expensive than GIFT. As a result, GIFT has become less popular and is now only rarely performed in the United States.

This procedure is no longer done at Texas Fertility Center. Contact us to schedule a consultation at our Austin IVF center and learn more about in vitro fertilization.