A groundbreaking new IVF treatment uses stem cells from healthy eggs to give an older egg new life—and it's getting women pregnant. So why don't we have it here?
At nearly one month old, Canadian baby Zain Rajani is the first baby born in the world with a new in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment that uses stem cells. According to Time.com, this breakthrough treatment was created by scientists at OvaScience, a fertility company that provides the procedure, called Augment. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company currently offers this option at IVF clinics in select international regions, like Rajani's home of Toronto, but it's not available in the U.S. yet.
The basic concept of this new procedure is that stem cells of healthy, yet-to-be developed eggs can help make a woman's older eggs act young again by taking the mitochondria from the ovaries' younger stem cells and putting that cell into the older egg. "You're basically giving the older egg another powerhouse," says William Ziegler, DO, a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility and medicaldirector of the Reproductive Science Center of New Jersey. "The problem is that we don't know yet know the outcome of having two mitochondria in one cell."
Nearly three dozen women around the world have used Augment, and currently eight women are pregnant from it. "I think it's great technology since we are looking at an area of the egg that hasn't been looked at before," Ziegler says. "But when we start taking a look at new IVF technologies, more research has to be done in order to know the outcome of the pregnancies, as well as how the children will be affected."
Of the eight women currently pregnant from the procedure, Ziegler says, we don't know whether it's been confirmed from a blood test or if they're "clinical pregnancies." "There are a lot of questions that come up," he says. "The problem I see is that the infertility population are looking for the 'golden ring' and will go to any length to reach that golden ring. They trust their physician to obtain their goal of a healthy baby and my fear is that clinics are going to offer this technology, but it's going to cost the patient a lot of money and maybe not have a success rate that's quoted."
While Ziegler thinks we're about 10 years out from a procedure like this coming to the U.S., he says this technology would probably be best for patients under 35 who've had multiple failed IVF cycles or pregnancy losses but have found that their embryo genetics are normal.
In the U.S., IVF technology continues to improve. Doctors are learning how to decrease number of embryos and increase the quality rate, Ziegler says. "We're waiting longer to transfer the embryos back into the patient to identify better quality embryos and decrease the multiple rates."
While the FDA and U.S. medical community may not be quick to respond to the latest hype in infertility treatment, it's because they want to be sure they know what they're dealing with, Ziegler says. "The U.S. isn't going to jump on a treatment that has a lot of problems until it's been shown to be successful, the bugs have been worked out, and we know the patient is going to be safe."