May 16, 2017

Hearing the words, “you’re pregnant” can be an exciting, life-changing moment. But for many couples struggling with infertility, the journey to parenthood is frustrating, stressful, and can at times feel hopeless.

For almost two years, Brooke Schmitt and her husband, Daniel, struggled to start a family, but infertility issues got in the way of achieving their dream of parenthood.

“My OB/GYN ran several tests, and it turned out that my numbers were really low,” Brooke said. “Since my ovaries were not releasing eggs, my doctor recommended that I consult with a fertility specialist.”

After consultations with other providers, Schmitt chose the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, a regional and national leader in providing advanced fertility services to families who have had difficulty conceiving.

Since opening in July 2014, the center’s reputation was strengthened even more in 2016 when its success rates for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) reached a milestone – 47 percent of embryo transfer patients at the Center achieved clinical pregnancy.

Dr. William Gibbons, chief of Reproductive Medicine at the Pavilion for Women and founding director of the Family Fertility Center, credits the Center’s success to numerous factors – state-of-the-art technology, research and support of Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Texas Children’s allowed me to have resources that many IVF programs don’t have,” Gibbons said. “They enabled us to build the absolute best lab that we could have, and we have almost as much research lab space as clinical lab space.”

The Family Fertility Center is the first in Houston and among the early adopters in the U.S. to offer the EmbryoScope, an embryo monitoring system that provides continuous moving time-lapse images of embryos as they grow. This technology allows fertility specialists to identify the healthiest embryo to transfer to the patient to improve IVF success.

Realizing the uncertainties that often accompany fertility treatments, the Schmitts relied on the Center’s expertise and state-of-the-art capabilities to help facilitate their dream of becoming parents. After consulting with their reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Paul Zarutskie, Brooke and her husband elected to pursue IVF.

“I was really lucky – my numbers were great,” Brooke said. “They retrieved about 41 eggs, and 39 of them fertilized successfully.”

At the end of day five, 12 of Brooke’s embryos were still living. All of them underwent genetic testing, and five of them were healthy. She and her husband, Daniel, implanted an embryo. The other four healthy embryos were cryogenically preserved for future implantation.

Brooke was implanted with an embryo on February 5, 2016. After undergoing blood work to confirm the couple was pregnant, the test came back positive.

Their daughter, Sophia, was born October 19, 2016.

“It’s a surreal feeling to know that you’re a parent and you’ve made this baby,” Brooke said. “We know we couldn’t have made her without the help of Dr. Zarutskie and the fertility team. Between the talent and the state-of-the-art technology there, it was a perfect combination that produced a perfect outcome.”

To read more about the Schmitts’ story in Texas Children’s Annual Report, click here. To learn more about Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center, click here.

January 12, 2016


From exploring the metabolic factors impacting egg quality to the genetics of embryo implantation, researchers at the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women are engaged in several studies to help infertile couples achieve successful pregnancy outcomes.

For couples struggling to get pregnant, often times their only hope is through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in which a healthy embryo is transferred to the uterus for implantation. If the window of implantation has passed – the crucial time when the endometrium or inner uterine lining releases chemical signals that allow the embryo to attach – the chances of getting pregnant are very slim.

“Until now, the endometrium was kind of a black box,” said Dr. William Gibbons, director of the Family Fertility Center and chief of reproductive endocrinology at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. “While studies have been done on embryos, limited research has focused on the important role of endometrial receptivity prior to implantation. With advanced technology, we can uncover innovative techniques to improve IVF success rates.”

In collaboration with Dr. Carlos Simon from the University of Valencia, Spain, Drs. Gibbons, Paul Zarutskie and Cecilia Valdes are exploring the use of Endometrial Receptivity Array (ERA), a biopsy that analyzes the DNA patterns of more than 240 genes in the endometrium to determine when it is the most receptive to obtain a successful embryo transplant. For some women, this fertility window can be earlier or later than the typical window of implantation.

“The cells in the uterine lining are constantly changing,” Zarutskie said. “No matter how healthy the embryo appears, if the embryo transfer happens when the endometrium is not fully prepared or has passed its peak receptivity, implantation will not occur. In this study, approximately 70 percent of women who failed to get pregnant after an IVF transfer of a genetically normal embryo were not at the implantation window.”

In addition to ERA, Dr. Neil Chappell is spearheading a study to see if marker proteins in cervical mucus can evaluate the optimal timing of the implantation window.

“As the lining of the uterus changes in the phase where it receives the embryo, changes in the expression of genes and proteins are evaluated via ultrasound or by doing a biopsy of the endometrium,” Chappell said. “Hopefully by examining cervical mucus proteins, we can eventually develop assays that can be performed in the office in a matter of minutes through a very low risk procedure like a pelvic exam.”

Additional research studies are exploring the impact of metabolism on egg quality and development:

  • Drs. Amy Schutt, Cecilia Valdes, Chandra Yallampalli and Farook Jahoor will examine the effects of protein restriction on egg quality before pregnancy occurs. In rats, a diet low in protein appears to reduce the egg’s ability to protect itself from damage by affecting the metabolic pathway responsible for producing antioxidants. This study will determine whether a diet rich in protein optimizes egg health and development.
  • Drs. Schutt and Jahoor will investigate the effects of obesity on female fertility by studying the granulosa cells collected during IVF. These cells feed signals to the egg during the maturation process. Their hypothesis is that obesity-induced inflammation and oxidative stress markers are increased in obese women compared to normal weight women, which may affect female fertility.
  • Drs. Zarutskie and Jessie Rubin will examine the impact of insulin and carbohydrate metabolism on the well-being of women in general, and specifically on their potential for fertility. Previous studies show insulin resistance can be present in lean and obese women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, indicating other factors may impact the imbalance in the insulin/glucose mechanism.

For women diagnosed with cancer, deciding whether or not to proceed with fertility-saving procedures before chemotherapy or radiation treatment can be difficult.

Dr. Terri Woodard, a fertility specialist known for her extensive work in fertility preservation, is developing an interactive computer-based decision aid for women with cancer. The website’s content will be driven by patient feedback obtained from focus groups and individual qualitative interviews, as well as feedback from oncologists.

“The website will contain basic information about different options that are available to help patients navigate through this delicate process,” said Woodward, who also sees patients at MD Anderson. “Even if patients decide not to do anything about their fertility prior to cancer treatment, just addressing these quality of life issues is crucial to ensure they make the right decision. This tool will help in this process.”

While these are snippets of fascinating research underway, click here to learn more about our Family Fertility Center at the Pavilion for Women.

July 28, 2015

72915Zarutski640As a child, we’ve all asked ourselves this question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

For Dr. Paul Zarutskie, the newest team member to join the Family Fertility Center at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women, his interest in reproductive medicine happened unexpectedly.

As a young teenager, Zarutskie dreamed of becoming a pilot and aeronautics engineer who designed missiles. When he was awarded a high school grant to intern in a lab in Philadelphia, a blunder in the paperwork misassigned him to a reproductive endocrinology lab.

“I wasn’t disappointed at all,” Zarutskie said. “The science was so fascinating to me, that I never looked back. I knew this was my calling.”

Since that inspirational moment in his youth, Zarutskie finds tremendous joy helping infertile couples achieve their dream of starting a family. As a tireless patient advocate, pioneering researcher and renowned contributor to the field of reproductive medicine, Zarutskie has devoted much of his career to advancing cutting-edge fertility treatment technologies to help patients achieve the best pregnancy outcomes.

As a reproductive endocrinologist for more than 30 years, Zarutskie has developed innovative treatment protocols, drugs, devices and laboratory procedures, including intracytoplasmic sperm injection and cryopreservation, a technique that freezes and stores sperm and eggs to protect the ability of couples to conceive in the future. Zarutskie was also one of the first infertility specialists in the United States to introduce preimplantation genetic screening services into clinical practice that examines embryos for inherited genetic abnormalties, which in turn, can help identify the healthiest embryo for transfer.

Zarutskie earned his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College, Drexel University, followed by an OB/GYN residency at Duke University Medical Center and a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He served most recently as chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Washington in Seattle.

After making the 2,343-mile trek to Houston, Zarutskie is thrilled to join such a reputable team of physicians, nurses and staff who share his same passion at the Family Fertility Center.

“I have known Dr. William Gibbons for a very long time and I am impressed with the incredible work being done here, particularly in the area of genetics and reproduction,” said Zarutskie, who is also an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine. “I am privileged to be part of this amazing team and continue to pursue my passion of helping would-be parents achieve their dream of having a baby.”

Beyond the in-depth knowledge and expertise Zarutskie brings to the Family Fertility Center, his approach to patient care helps couples find comfort knowing there is hope beyond infertility issues.

“Dr. Zarutskie is incredibly compassionate and personable, but very intelligent in explaining why I am having trouble getting pregnant,” said Family Fertility Center patient Katie Walford, who was referred to Zarutskie after her friend had successful IVF treatment with him 20 years ago. “I wanted to go with someone who I could trust.”

Besides seeing his patients, Zarutskie has published numerous scientific research articles in prestigious national and international fertility journals. Currently, he is collaborating with research colleagues to explore how obesity and metabolic issues affect oocyte retrieval, as well as how genetic markers are better defining the window of embryo implantation to improve fertilization outcomes.

“I am delighted to have someone of Dr. Zartuskie’s experience and reputation join our Pavilion for Women family,” said Dr. William Gibbons, director of the Family Fertility Center and chief of reproductive endocrinology services at Texas Children’s. “He has the skill set and the experience to enrich our practice and help us continue to provide exceptional care to our patients.”

Click here to watch a video tour of the Family Fertility Center. If you have questions, want to schedule an appointment with Dr. Zarutskie or Dr. Gibbons, or learn more about the benefits available to full-time Texas Children’s Hospital employees, call Ext. 6-7500.

August 12, 2014


The Family Fertility Center recently hosted an open house to showcase its impressive, state-of-the-art laboratory and in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic located on the third floor of Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women.

Dr. William Gibbons and his team provided tours to demonstrate how the laboratory’s high-tech equipment is helping couples reach their dream of starting a family.

“We use the most advanced fertility treatments available to help families achieve healthy pregnancies,” said Dr. William Gibbons, director of the Family Fertility Center and chief of reproductive endocrinology services at Texas Children’s. “We want our patients to know they’re not alone in this journey, and that our highly-skilled team of endocrinologists and obstetric anesthesiologists will provide the most comfortable treatment possible to meet each couple’s individual needs and concerns.”

81314FertilityClinicinside640Unlike other fertility clinics out there, Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center is the first in Houston to offer the EmbryoScope, an embryo monitoring system that provides continuous moving time-lapse images of embryos as they grow. This technology allows our physicians to identify the healthiest embryo to transfer to the patient, which has been shown to improve IVF success. Our facility also features micro-incubators equipped with fiber-optic, real-time pH monitoring to protect the quality of the embryo environment.

Additionally, the Family Fertility Center has partnered with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to help cancer patients achieve their dream of conceiving a baby; Women faced with cancer have the option of preserving their fertility before they undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments.

“Building families is what our mission is all about,” said Gibbons. “We’re here to serve you, and we look forward to offering the most advanced fertility treatments available in our new state-of-the-art facility.”

Click here to view a video tour of Texas Children’s Family Fertility Center. If you have questions, want to schedule an appointment, or learn more about the benefits available to full-time Texas Children’s Hospital employees, call Ext. 6-7500.