The Future of Fertility: 3 Treatments You Need to Know About
Approximately one in every eight couples today will struggle to conceive or bring a pregnancy to term in the United States, and treatments for infertility have been recorded in the country as early as 1884 in the form of artificial insemination. More than 100 years later, the medical community has developed a wide range of options for couples affected by infertility outside of donation, including methods such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
While today’s treatment options are more varied and efficient than in the past, new technological developments offer greater possibilities in fertility treatment for couples experiencing difficulty in conceiving, including the treatments listed below:
1. Embryonic Chromosomal Screenings
Medical professionals believe that more than 60 percent of cases in which a child is conceived result in miscarriage due to aneuploidy, or an irregular number of chromosomes, due to faulty egg maturation. Aneuploidy is also the most likely reason that an in-vitro fertilization patient does not become pregnant.
Recent developments in chromosomal gene screening technology have shown improved rates of embryonic implantation and successful pregnancies, especially in patients who undertake IVF treatment over the age of 34. The screenings allow medical professionals to select an embryo for transfer that is not affected by aneuploidy through analyzing all 23 chromosome pairs. Previous methodologies have only allowed medical professionals to analyze a maximum of 11 pairs, creating a less than 50 percent level of guaranteed chromosomal health. By implanting an embryo with a standard set of chromosomes into a patient’s uterus, medical professionals are able to significantly increase the likelihood that a patient will have a successful pregnancy.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco aim to produce a method of even earlier chromosomal screening utilizing the recent discovery of protein secretion patterns during an egg’s maturation process. Scientists believe that sampling fluid around an egg may enable researchers to investigate these protein patterns, allowing them to determine whether or not the egg will be a successful candidate for IVF.
2. Artificially Motorized Sperm Cells
Just as a third of infertility cases are attributed to female partners, another third are attributed to male partners. Infertility in men is typically caused by problems related to either the formation or transport of sperm. Common among these problems is low sperm motility, which refers to the inability of sperm to move toward the egg quickly, in a straight line, or both.
In early February 2016, German researchers announced that technology had been developed that could boost the movement of individual sperm cells affected by low motility. Using a 3D laser, researchers constructed a microscopic polymer helix covered by a coat of metal designed to fit on the flagella of sperm cells. The helices capture sperm from behind before using rotating magnetic fields to propel sperm forward and toward an egg. Once the cell has reached the egg, the rotating magnetic field is reversed, freeing the sperm from the helix and allowing fertilization to occur.
Although significant research and testing must be accomplished before medical professionals can present this fertility treatment option to couples, initial results show that this new development could be a less expensive and intensive alternative to the traditional IVF-based treatments.
3. Egg Rejuvenation
While men retain the ability to reproduce as they age, women face decreasing fertility levels beginning in their early thirties. With more women than ever before choosing to bear children later in life, infertility problems that occur in women over 34 years old are often attributed to a decline in egg quality that occurs naturally with age.
In 2012, a team of researchers discovered a set of cells within the outer cortex of human ovaries that could lead to the creation of mature eggs in a lab. The cells, referred to as egg precursor cells (EggPCs), were observed in mice eight years before, and scientists were able to grow fully mature eggs that resulted in the birth of healthy mice. The EggPCs that develop into the healthy eggs have not been affected by the same high levels of blood flow and hormones as a woman’s original eggs, and they retain a much higher likelihood of developing a typical set of chromosomes. This procedure is still being studied, and the company that developed the method has begun conducting non-commercial preceptorships in several countries outside of the United States. Officials expect to report their findings on the efficacy and viability of the method by the end of 2016.
The company that discovered these cells has also developed a procedure called AUGMENT, in which the mitochondrial DNA extracted from EggPCs is injected into pre-existing eggs in order to rejuvenate the cells. The rejuvenation process can help to facilitate the healthy development of an embryo. While AUGMENT has yet to receive approval in the United States, the treatment is available in several international locations.