GIFT is an early, and very simple ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) technique devised in the 1980s to achieve pregnancies in most couples who have not been able to conceive using conventional treatments for infertility (despite having good sperm and normal fallopian tubes).
Most infertility patients will have their best chance of pregnancy with some sort of ART procedure, and GIFT is the only ART approach that is completely acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church. The success rate with GIFT is even somewhat higher than with standard IVF (in vitro fertilization), but GIFT can be performed only if the patient has normal fallopian tubes and adequate sperm.
For cases with abnormal fallopian tubes, IVF is mandated. For cases with poor sperm, we recommend the ICSI procedure pioneered by us and our Belgian collaborators.
GIFT stands for “Gamete Intra-Fallopian Transfer.” Gametes, i.e., the female’s eggs and the male’s sperm, are washed and placed via a catheter directly into the woman’s fallopian tubes.
This usually involves a minor surgical procedure which allows you to go home the same day with a minor degree of pain that lasts for just a few days.
With GIFT, fertilization occurs inside the woman’s body (not outside), and mimics the way a normally fertilized egg would begin its journey to the uterus for implantation.
Understanding this older and more “natural” ART treatment is helpful for understanding the newer, more complex treatments.
How does GIFT work?
Step 1. Before proceeding with GIFT, it is essential that your fallopian tubes are known to be open and healthy. A tubal patency test is usually carried out as part of your assessment by the fertility clinic.
Step 2. Up to the point of egg collection, the procedure for GIFT is the same as that for IVF.
In vitro fertilisation
Step 3. You will be anaesthetised and your doctor will make a small 5mm cut at the umbilicus. This is so they can insert a laparoscope to view your womb and fallopian tubes.
Step 4. Under direct vision through the laparoscope, eggs are removed from the ovaries. This may require two additional small incisions in the
Step 5. Up to three of the best quality eggs, if you are below the age of 40, or up to four eggs if you are over 40 are then mixed with the prepared sperm in a catheter (a fine, flexible tube).
Step 6. The doctor inserts the catheter via the laparoscope into the end of one or both fallopian tubes and deposits the eggs and sperm.
Step 7. You need a short rest before going home. You will be given medication to build up the lining of your womb and provide a good environment for any fertilised eggs.
If there are any surplus eggs following treatment, it may be decided to carry out IVF with these eggs and store any suitable resulting embryos for your future use.
On the same day that the eggs are collected, you are asked to provide a sperm sample.
If donor sperm are to be used, these are carefully thawed before being mixed with eggs in the catheter and deposited in the fallopian tubes.
Chance for Pregnancy
GIFT is not nearly as popular as IVF today; nonetheless there is still a 50% pregnancy rate per retrieval cycle for GIFT. In older women the pregnancy rate is lower.
If an older woman is fortunate enough to yield many eggs, her pregnancy rate can be made equivalent to that of a younger patient by putting in more eggs.
GIFT or ZIFT (a variation of GIFT whereby embryos are first fertilized in vitro, and then transferred to the fallopian tubes) actually gives a considerably higher pregnancy rate in older women with cervical abnormalities.
If any ART cycle — GIFT, ZIFT, IVF, etc. — fails to achieve pregnancy, you should consider undergoing more cycles in the future.
If you don’t get pregnant in your first cycle (and there are no egg problems) you can still get pregnant in subsequent cycles, and the pregnancy rate still remains just as high.
If your fallopian tubes are damaged, you would require IVF even if GIFT or ZIFT would have been your preference otherwise.
If your sperm is poor, that is no problem whatsoever. You would then undergo an amazing procedure called IVF/ICSI, which we actually helped develop with colleagues in Brussels, Belgium.