Smoking and grandchildren- What’s the connection?

Smoking while pregnantThere are plenty of reasons to quit smoking. The health effects of smoking are well known and well documented, not just on your fertility, but a whole number of health issues including heart disease and cancer. Now, there’s yet another reason to quit smoking if you are pregnant  or trying to get pregnant. Cigarettes may actually affect a woman’s male offspring’s sperm quality. As reported in Human Reproduction, the male offspring of pregnant mice exposed to high levels of cigarette smoke had sperm with lower counts, lower motility and more abnormally shaped sperm (low morphology), and these male mice took longer longer to impregnate female mice who in turn gave birth to fewer mouse pups. So, what does this all mean? While we don’t yet know if this is true in humans (or even 100 % sure it is true in animals), exposure to tobacco smoke could not only harm your fertility (among other things) but also could harm your unborn son’s chances of fathering children. This is another good reason to quit.

Cell phones and male fertility

Sperm-motility-cell-phoneA recent study suggests that men who keeps their cellphones in their pants pockets, may have lower sperm motility. Researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, found that men who kept cell phones in their pockets had lower sperm motility than those who did not, about an 8% reduction. Is this an issue? It remains to be seen whether this decrease really affects a couple’s chances for pregnancy and truly causes infertility.

 

How old is too old to try IVF ?

Pregnant womanWith stories of 45 year celebrities having babies (and sometimes even twins and triplets) with high tech treatments, most people think that age is not a barrier to successful treatment.  When using donor eggs from a young egg donor, that is definitely true. The chances for success with donor egg ivf is excellent, even for women in their late 40’s. However that is not the case in women using their own eggs. Pregnancies in women undergoing fertility treatment without the use of a donor over 45 are very unusual.  A recent report from Florida describes a 46 year old woman who is reported to be oldest woman to conceive from IVF with her own eggs. Is this a major breakthrough? Not really. The main determinant over whether a fertilized egg will develop into a healthy baby is whether the embryo is genetically abnormal. Genetically normal embryos are common in 25 year olds but pregnancy rates are never 100%. Likewise, the vast majority of  45 year olds’ embryos are abnormal, and so the pregnancy rates would be expected to be quite low but not exactly 0%. When confronted with these odds, most couples would chose not to try.

Robosperm

Researchers in Germany used very tiny tubes called nanotubes to control the motion of sperm. They used sperm mainly because the sperm are able to propel themselves. Today there is no real application for this even though this is fascinating. In the future, however this could represent a way to help fertilize eggs or even deliver drugs such as chemotherapy to their target. Here’s the video:

Ethnicity and IVF success rates

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A recent study from the UK showed what many Reproductive Medicine specialists noticed for some time, that a couples’ chances for success with IVF vary based on ethnicity. In this paper published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, IVF success rates varied by race with white women having the highest pregnancy rates, followed by women of Southeast Asian descent, then African descent and then Middle Eastern descent. The reason for this is not at all clear. The number of eggs women produced, how many fertilized and the number of embryos transferred, did not differ based ethnicity.  However the implantation rate (the percent of transferred embryos that took) did differ among the groups. Why the embryos of some ethnic groups would be more likely to implant than others remains the big unanswered question.

Sticky sperm , ICSI and PICSI

ImageMany IVF and fertility practices such as ours use a procedure called PICSI to help certain couples where we are concerned that there may be a problem with sperm quality even when fertilization is succesful with ICSI. PICSI relies on placing the sperm on a field hyaluronic acid and having the embryologist determine whether sperm are able to bind to it. Sperm which are immature or otherwise abnormal are less likely to bind to the hyaluronic acid, and so sperm which do bind to it are used for the injection into the egg for ICSI. We and others have found that it may help certain couples who have failed ICSI cycles or had miscarriages from ICSI cycles. However, to date there are no large studies yet showing how effective it is, so researchers at the University of Leeds  in the UK have initiated a large study to determine this.

Hope or hype for women with ovarian failure

ImageAs a fertility specialist, one of the most devastating diagnosis I can deliver to a patient is that she has ovarian insufficiency or ovarian failure, essentially meaning that she in premature menopause.  While these women are usually able to bear children with the use of donor eggs, the chances for pregnancy with their own eggs are extremely low. As highlighted in a recent issue of Time magazine, researchers at Stanford have attempted to reinvigorate their ovaries using a procedure called In Vitro Activation (IVA) . Of the 27 couples in trial, 2 actually became pregnant. While the odds for pregnancy were quite low, this represents a glimmer of hope for women with ovarian insufficiency.

Do human embryos like music? Maybe

For many years, people would talk to their plants to try to make them to grow better. In a new twist on this same idea, IVF researchers in Spain fertilized eggs (using ICSI) and cultured half of the eggs with music and half without.  It turns out that the eggs exposed to music were more likely to fertilize.  Click here for more.