Baby Quest: Fertility Frontiers
Reported February 1, 2008
LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — You can’t stop a woman’s biological clock. But now, researchers can stop her eggs from aging, which makes having a biological child a reality for women in their forties and fifties. Researchers are also trying to make pregnancy possible for women without a uterus.
By her mid thirties, Adrienne Domasin knew she wanted a baby, even though she was single.
“I didn’t really feel like I had to meet someone, so I said, I can do this thing, so I went ahead with it,” Domasin says.
At age 36, she turned to fertility specialist Jane Frederick for help.
“It’s not necessarily that infertility is becoming worse, it’s that women are waiting to have a baby at an older age,” says Jane Frederick, M.D., an infertility specialist at Extend Fertility in Laguna Hills, Calif.
Ignoring her biological clock could cost a woman her chance at motherhood. Egg quality peaks at age 27, declines rapidly through her thirties and by 42, a woman has little chance at getting pregnant with her own eggs.
“It’s not how important the age of the woman is, but it’s the age of her egg that determines success,” Dr. Frederick says.
Now, science lets women freeze their eggs.
“When the egg is frozen, it’s in an ageless state and it stays frozen until you thaw it and fertilize it in the test tube and create an embryo,” Dr. Frederick says.
Doctors have been freezing embryos — eggs fertilized with sperm — for more than twenty years. But freezing eggs before they’re fertilized is a challenge. Eggs, which are mostly water, form damaging ice crystals during the freezing process.
“And then the egg doesn’t survive when you thaw it,” Dr. Frederick says.
But a recent breakthrough in the cryoprotectant used in egg-freezing has made it possible. Still, a single thawed egg results in pregnancy less than 4-percent of the time, compared to 43-percent with fresh eggs. So far, only about 600 babies have been born from frozen eggs.
“This technology is giving women a lot more tools to actually be able to control their reproductive lifespan,” Dr. Frederick says.
Domasin had 11 eggs frozen. She came back four months later to have six fertilized. Now, she has Noah.
“It was like a real emotional month for a while, when I really realized the gravity of what I had done … by myself,” Domasin says.
What makes Domasin’s story even more unique — Noah is the nation’s first baby born from a frozen egg and frozen sperm.
“I just want him to have a normal life,” Domasin says.
But in the fertility world, normal is hard to define. Transplant surgeon Andreas Tzakis wants to be the first in the world to transplant a human uterus, giving women who have had hysterectomies a chance to give birth. His research is currently in pigs.
“We have five animals that are quite healthy with transplanted uteri and they are waiting to be pregnant,” says Andreas Tzakis, M.D., Ph.D., transplant surgeon at the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, Fla.
Like other transplanted organs, having a donor womb would require taking anti-rejection drugs. But unlike a liver or a heart, a uterus can simply be removed after giving birth.
“I can only imagine the impact that it will have,” Dr. Tzakis says.
Dr. Tzakis says women have already called wanting to be part of future human trials.
“I think it will be within the next few years,” Dr. Tzakis says.
It costs as much as 600 dollars a year to store frozen eggs at a clinic until they’re ready to be fertilized. Dr. Frederick says a woman can carry a pregnancy well into her forties, fifties and possibly sixties.
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