Would couples diagnosed with non–obstructive azoospermia (NOA) consider two future treatments with artificial gametes (AGs) as alternatives for testicular sperm extraction followed by ICSI (TESE-ICSI)?
Most couples with NOA (89%) would opt for treatment with AGs before attempting TESE-ICSI and/or after failed TESE-ICSI.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY:
Couples with NOA who undergo TESE-ICSI have a 25% chance of conceiving a child. Two future treatments that are being developed are ‘ICSI with artificial sperm formed from somatic cells’ (ICSI with AGs) and ‘natural conception after autotransplantation of in vitro proliferated spermatogonial stem cells’ (natural conception with AGs). It is unknown what treatment preferences patients have.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION:
A cross-sectional survey conducted in 2012-2013, addressing all 921 couples diagnosed with NOA and treated with TESE-ICSI in Dutch fertility clinics between 2007 and 2012. The coded questionnaires were sent by mail and followed up with two reminders.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS:
We developed the questionnaire based on a literature review and previous qualitative interviews, and included treatment preference and the valuation of nine treatment characteristics. We assessed reliability of the questionnaires and calculated mean importance scores (MISs: 0-10) of each treatment characteristic. We assessed which patient and treatment characteristics were associated with a couple’s hypothetical treatment preference using binominal regression.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE:
The vast majority (89%) of the 494 responding couples (response rate: 54%) would potentially opt for AGs as a first and/or a last resort treatment option. More specifically, as a first treatment couples were likely (67%) to prefer natural conception with AGs over TESE-ICSI and less likely to prefer ICSI with AGs over TESE-ICSI (34%). After failed TESE-ICSI, the majority of couples (75%) would want to attempt ICSI with AGs as a last resort option. The most important characteristics of treatment were safety for children (MIS: 8.2), pregnancy rates (MIS: 7.7) and curing infertility (MIS: 6.8). Costs, burden, naturalness and technological sophistication were of about equal importance (MIS: 3.1-4.0). The majority of patients rated conception at home and moral acceptability as not important (MIS: 1.7 and 0.8, respectively), but the importance attributed to these variables did still affect patients’ likeliness to opt for AGs.
LIMITATIONS AND REASONS FOR CAUTION:
Couples with NOA not opting for TESE-ICSI were not included and might have other perspectives. Couples’ hypothetical choices for AGs might differ from their actual choices once data on the costs, safety and pregnancy rates become available from these new treatment options.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS:
The interest of couples with non–obstructive azoospermia in potential future treatments with AGs encourages further pre-clinical research. Priority setting for research and future decision-making on clinical application of AGs should take all characteristics important to patients into account.
artificial gametes; assisted reproduction; male infertility; patient-centred care; stem cells