From the cherry-wood floor and comfortable furniture in the waiting room to the sophisticated air-handling system, laboratory equipment and security features, a new fertility clinic operated by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is designed to ensure that stressed-out couples achieve their goal — pregnancy.

From the cherry-wood floor and comfortable furniture in the waiting room to the sophisticated air-handling system, laboratory equipment and security features, a new fertility clinic operated by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is designed to ensure that stressed-out couples achieve their goal — pregnancy.

With all of the research-based technology that is built into the $2.5 million outpatient facility, the SIU Fertility and IVF Center will offer some of the best services for infertile couples, said labratory director Mary McAsey.

“We built this from the ground up with the newest technology available,” she said. “You will not see a facility like this, save for one or two others in the country.”

Built on part of the lower level of the SIU Clinic-Moy Building, the clinic will allow SIU to offer in-vitro fertilization services for the first time since 2002. That’s when Dr. Ponjola Coney, the only reproductive endocrinologist on staff at the time and chairwoman of SIU’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, left for a job in Tennessee.

SIU now has two reproductive endocrinologists — Dr. Gary Horowitz, chief of the reproductive endocrinology and infertility division and medical director of the clinic; and Dr. J. Ricardo Loret de Mola, chairman of the OB/GYN department.

The team also includes Dr. Tobias Kohler, chief of male infertility in SIU’s urology division.
Planning for the clinic — a former bill-processing area covering 4,800 square feet — began two years ago, McAsey said.

She said SIU officials wanted to open the clinic, a vast technological upgrade from what the school offered before Coney left, to broaden the training provided to medical residents preparing for careers as obstetricians and gynecologists and to help patients in downstate Illinois.

“We saw the need for a state-of-the-art facility for assisted reproduction, and our goal was to make the best program in this area, if not in the entire United States, if in not the world,” she said.

SIU expects at least 100 to 200 couples to receive services at the clinic in its first year.

McAsey said remodeling for the clinic was financed with a loan from SIU Physicians & Surgeons, the physician practice group at the medical school. The clinic is designed to at least break even financially, she said.

Fertility treatments can cost from $7,000 to $15,000, and many health-insurance plans cover them. Illinois law requires many insurance plans to cover in-vitro, in which an egg from a woman is fertilized with her partner’s sperm outside her body. The fertilized egg or eggs are reinserted in the vagina in hopes that a single embryo will implant in the uterus.

The clinic won’t be subject to the sometimes slow and low payment rates from Illinois’ Medicaid program. More than 16 percent of all patients treated by SIU doctors have Medicaid as their primary insurance, but Medicaid doesn’t cover fertility treatments.

McAsey said the air-purification system in the fertility clinic, as well as the use of certain construction materials in areas where human eggs and embryos are handled outside the body, are designed to reduce the likelihood that airborne contaminants will damage those eggs and embryos.

New equipment also will allow the clinic to perform genetic testing on embryos before they are inserted, she said.

The clinic’s use of the latest computer-chip technology will make it even less likely that a woman’s eggs will be fertilized with the wrong man’s sperm, said James Kontio, a senior embryologist and supervisor of the clinic’s lab.

“It’s kind of the unspoken fear in infertility patients,” he said. “This is at least an electronic means to lend a little more trust.”

McAsey said some local patients currently travel to St. Louis, Chicago or surrounding states for fertility treatments. “We are more high-tech than any program in Chicago or St. Louis,” she said.

The clinic is across the street from Reproductive Endocrinology Associates, which provides many — but not all — of the same services, including in-vitro. It is operated by reproductive endocrinologists Phillip Galle and Mary Ann McRae, physicians who left SIU in 1992.

Galle said the practice’s “state-of-the-art” clinic serves about 400 couples each year with in-vitro and other fertility services.

He said it is “hard to say” whether the SIU clinic will siphon away patients from Reproductive Endocrinology Associates.

Dean Olsen can be reached at dean.olsen@sj-r.com.