THOMSON Fertility Centre remains barred from performing assisted reproductive procedures even as Asia-Pacific’s first-ever fertility treatment training centre was launched yesterday at the National University Hospital (NUH). Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) was suspended by the Ministry of Health (MOH) after a mix-up at its unit last November, when a baby born after in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment was found to carry another man’s DNA instead of the father’s.
An MOH spokesman yesterday said the centre has to rectify all shortcomings and comply fully with directives and licensing rules before the suspension can be lifted. “MOH is in the process of arranging for a full audit of the centre’s IVF services,” he added. Five months on, the industry looks set to begin recovering from the setback, with the opening of a centre to help fine-tune the skills of those interested in entering the field.
The Centre for Reproductive Education and Specialist Training (Crest) at NUH was built with a $3.8 million donation from German pharmaceutical company Merck Serono. Doctors who want to specialise in assisted reproductive techniques like IVF – as well as scientists keen to become embryologists – can use the facilities to practise on mouse eggs.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, who wrote a blog post after attending the launch, quoted Australian fertility expert David Healy as saying fertility treatments “give hope to the hopeless”. “But,” the minister wrote, “the best advice to couples is still to marry and start a family early.” Crest, which began conducting courses last September, has so far trained 30 clinicians and embryologists, including foreigners from China, Vietnam and Brunei.
Two courses are available: a 10-day course for doctors for $3,500, and a $6,000 one-month embryology course for aspiring practitioners. To qualify, doctors must be obstetrics and gynaecology specialists with at least three years’ experience in infertility issues. Those who want to study embryology must have a degree in either biology, biotechnology or biological sciences.
After completing the course, trainees must go through regular licensing procedures to qualify to practise IVF. There is rising demand for IVF treatment and a need for more trained professionals in Singapore. Last year, NUH conducted 385 IVF cycles – a 50 per cent hike from the 255 cycles in 2008. There are 45 obstetrics and gynaecology specialists trained in IVF here.