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Kevin Marron and Conor Harrity

The purpose of this study was to determine if a comprehensive flow cytometry panel could be used to assess immunophenotype profiles in menstrual blood of patients experiencing reproductive failure and age-matched controls of proven fertility. Menstrual blood samples of 58 recurrent pregnancy loss and repeated implantation failure patients, along with 15 age-matched controls of proven fertility, were obtained within the first 24 h of the onset of menstruation to non-invasively assess the local immunophenotype. Using a comprehensive multi-parameter flow panel, the lymphocyte sub-populations were described and compared. In relation to well-established peripheral blood immunophenotyping values, distinct lymphocyte population differences were noted between the subgroups. The ratios of CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells were inverted in relation to peripheral blood, and uterine natural killler (NK) cells represented by CD56bright were distinctly visualised, emphasising the distinction between menstrual and peripheral blood. In relation to controls, there were marked increases in CD3+ve T-cells (P = 0.009), CD4:CD8 ratio (P = 0.004), CD19 B-cells (P = 0.026) and CD56dim NK cells (P = 0.002) in the reproductive failure cases. The study shows that flow cytometric evaluation could provide a rapid and objective analysis of lymphocyte subpopulations in many forms of tissue and fluid. The findings show significant variations in cellular composition of immune cells indicating a distinct compartment, with differences between cases and controls. Immunological assessment of the menstrual blood immunophenotype, in clinically appropriate patients, may provide insight into the aetiology of adverse reproductive outcome, without the risks and inconveniences associated with a more invasive endometrial biopsy.

Lay summary

Unexplained infertility is a difficult issue for patients and physicians, but despite diagnostic strides and innovative methods, there are no clear solutions. The involvement of an overactive or underactive immune system in selected cases is undeniable, and the endometrial lining is the most relevant area for investigation because this is where the embryo implants. Endometrial investigations, however, are highly invasive, involve medication and have to be done at the right time. The method described and evaluated here is an alternative assessment which avoids these difficulties and can be used in a clinical setting.

Open access

Parijot Kumar, Kevin Marron, and Conor Harrity

Controversy exists regarding the benefits of intravenous intralipid therapy in patients with a poor reproductive history. It is frequently reported that there is no evidence to support the effectiveness, utility or safety for this treatment. While individual studies may be perceived as weak, a systematic review and meta-analysis were performed to determine if there is any advantage to patients. PubMed, Embase and Scopus searches were performed with the target populations being either recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL), or recurrent implantation failure (RIF) undergoing assisted reproductive technology (ART) and receiving intralipid infusions. These cohorts were compared with either placebo, no intervention or alternative treatments. The most relevant outcome measures were considered to be clinical pregnancy rate (CPR), live birth rate (LBR), implantation rate (IR) and miscarriage rate (MR). Twelve studies encompassing 2676 participants met the criteria for selection and were included and reviewed. Treatment of the target population with intralipid led to an improvement in IR (Odds Ratio (OR): 2.97, 2.05–4.29), pregnancy rate (OR: 1.64, 1.31–2.04), and LBR (OR: 2.36, 1.75–3.17), with a reduction in MR (OR: 0.2, 0.14–0.30). Although intravenous intralipid is not recommended as a routine treatment for recurrent miscarriage or implantation failure, there is enough data to suggest consideration in selected patients where routine testing is unremarkable, standard treatments have failed and immunological risk factors are present. The presence of abnormal uterine natural killer (uNK) cells needs more study as a target marker to determine those who could benefit.

Lay summary

There is controversy regarding the benefits and efficacy of intravenous intralipid therapy in patients with a poor reproductive history. It is frequently reported that there is no credible evidence to support their use. A situation we frequently face as medical professionals is patients asking us to consider immune therapy (such as intralipid) for reproductive failure where good quality embryos have been used. Intralipid infusions have been reported to improve pregnancy rates with IVF, and reduce the miscarriage risk in selected patient groups, but study results are not universally accepted. We have performed a detailed review and analysis of the literature to determine if there is any benefit to this immune treatment in specific patient groups. Our paper identified and analyzed 12 studies, finding that treatment with intravenous intralipid leads to an improvement in implantation, pregnancy and live birth rates, with a decrease in miscarriage rate. This study shows that there is evidence to suggest consideration of intralipid in certain patients where standard treatments have failed.