Artificial eggs and sperm- are they on the horizon ?

Sperm-eggs-synthetic-artificialCould a cure for real cure for infertility be on the horizon? Today many causes for infertility can currently be successfully treated such fertility issues caused by damage to fallopian tubes, ovulation disorders, endometriosis and low sperm counts or motility. These treatments currently available to us include fertility drugs, insemination, surgery and IVF. However, there are still issues in assisting women have very few or no eggs left or men who produce no sperm at all. This is a particular problem for women since women produce all they eggs they will in a lifetime while still in their mother’s womb, and by their mid 40s have hardly any normal eggs left.

These couples can be successfully treated only with the use of donor eggs or sperm. While these donor procedures are often quite effective, the children who result from these pregnancies do not carry the DNA of one or both of the parents. This is a problem since most couples who seek out the help of a Reproductive Medicine specialist want their own genetic children. With our current state of reproductive science this may not be possible.

One potential way around this would be using stem cells in the lab using cloning technologies.  A group of scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel and Cambridge in the UK have brought us a little closer to this cure, figuring out how to more efficiently get these stem cells to grow into cells that will eventually develop into eggs and sperm. Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature.

The researchers have yet to take the next step; producing eggs and sperm from these stem cells. While it may become technically feasible, besides the technical issues, there are ethical concerns, perhaps even greater than when IVF when first introduced to overcome before this proceeds. IVF was enormous breakthrough when it was developed, but it is still merely a replication of natural conception, albeit in a laboratory dish. If this next step is even possible, it could bring reproduction to entirely new level. These technologies may make it possible to have genetic children without ovaries, without testes and without age limits, shattering our concepts about parenthood, even more so than it is today. It is not clear if society is ready for this yet.

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.