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Duke Opens Ultraclean, Completely Sealed Fertility Center

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Couples who are struggling to conceive a child now have access to an ultrasterile, completely sealed fertility center operated by Duke University Medical Center that potentially could increase their chance of success.

On April 10, 2006, Duke will open the doors to the new $6 million center, which is designed to prevent airborne toxins and pathogens from interfering with the in vitro fertilization process. This is the first ultrasterile fertility center in North Carolina.

In addition to offering improved care, the new 12,000-square-foot facility will make it easier for couples to receive care. Located just off Interstate 40, the clinic is more easily reachable by patients, many of whom travel from long distances, and they can park their cars directly next to the clinic.

"In this clinic, we will be able to take better care of our patients and provide them with better access to care," said David Walmer, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Reproductive Endocrinology and Fertility in Duke's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Typically, our patients are very busy people, and we are making the process of receiving treatment more convenient and less frustrating for them."

The new building, which will have twice the space of the existing Duke Fertility Center, will enable the physicians to treat 50 percent more patients than at present, Walmer said. The fertility clinic now handles approximately 300 egg retrievals a year, and the new facility will be able to handle more than 450 retrievals a year while maintaining its patient-centered atmosphere.

"In vitro fertilization is a bit like guerilla warfare, in that there are undetectable chemicals in the environment that are toxic to sperm, egg and embryos," Walmer said. "In our old building, we protected embryos by pressurizing the laboratory with purified air to keep pushing the outside air away. But outside air can still get into leaky buildings. The new lab is so tightly sealed that even our design consultants couldn't detect any leaking."

In building the new center, Duke partnered with Alpha Environmental, a New Jersey-based firm that specializes in designing ultrasterile fertility clinics. According to the company's director, Antonia Gilligan, the Duke facility is only the 15th fertility clinic worldwide with such a high level of complexity and cleanliness.

The center, Walmer said, could reduce the time needed to get patients from their first visit to pregnancy.

Based on data from several less complex clinics that Alpha Environmental designed, Gilligan said a fertility clinic can experience up to a 15 percent increase in successful pregnancy rates. She added, however, that not every clinic will see such improvement, because much depends on how well the original clinic was sealed from the outside environment.

"There are only a few facilities that come close to what Duke will have with this clinic," she said. "It will be remarkably clean of all volatile organic chemicals that can impede the chances of a successful implantation that results in a successful pregnancy."

Several factors contribute to ensuring the center's squeaky cleanness. In ordinary buildings, volatile organic chemicals frequently are released from the materials used in construction. The new Duke clinic uses all steel equipment and water-based paint to minimize or eliminate the amount of such chemicals released. In addition, all electrical outlets are sealed to prevent outside contaminants from seeping into the clinic.

The building is also designed to maintain positive air pressure. Fresh air is run through a series of filters to remove unwanted contaminants, such as mold spores or bacteria, and then pumped through the lab to essentially create a protective barrier. This outflow helps sustain high air quality, said Doug Raburn, Ph.D., assistant reproductive technology lab director. Through this process, air in the lab is changed nearly three times as often as in a regular hospital.

Thomas Price, M.D., an associate professor of Reproductive Endocrinology and Fertility, has seen firsthand how pregnancy rates are affected by environmental factors. Moving the Duke clinic to the new building will be advantageous for all involved, he said.

"In vitro fertilization definitely benefits from an ultraclean, sealed environment in which physicians don't have to worry about the surroundings," he said. "Not only will this new clinic allow us to give our patients better care with our existing services, but it will also enable us to offer other fertility treatment options."

In addition to the services the Duke Fertility Center already offers -- sperm and egg donation, ovulation induction, in vitro fertilization and controlled ovarian hyperstimulation -- the clinic will offer, within the next few months to a year, preimplantation genetic screening and an egg cryopreservation program.

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