As science continues to evolve and create ever more successful ways of treating infertility, it can be exciting to look into treatments that may be the future of growing families. New ideas are being researched every day. From things as simple as squeezing an embryo to see how resilient it is, to methods looking into how to create a child from skin cells–t’s all being considered. Here’s a look at a few emerging treatments that, while not likely to impact your surrogacy journey today, could be the future of couples living with infertility.
Getting More Eggs
The IVF process starts by stimulating the body to create more quality eggs. These eggs are retrieved either from an intended mother or an egg donor, fertilized, and grown before being implanted into a surrogate (or the intended mother)’s womb. Creating more usable eggs in this step goes a long way towards IVF success. That’s why doctors are looking into hormones that can stimulate the follicles that create eggs. What they’re learning, however, is that these hormones require a delicate balance. Too few, and the egg yield doesn’t rise. Too many, and statistics show that those eggs can result in a 15-20% lower chance of a viable pregnancy.
Once the eggs are retrieved, the next step is to create the embryo. At current this is done in one of two ways:
- In vitro Fertilization (IVF)- which places the egg into a petri dish with free-swimming sperm in hopes that one will fertilize the egg. Or,
- Intracytoplasmic Injection (ICSI)- wherein a single sperm is manually injected into the egg to improve odds of successful fertilization.
ICSI tends to be a more precise science and is the choice for candidates who suspect their sperm may have low mobility. ICSI is also a more expensive option to explore.
Researchers are now able to analyze sperm prior to the fertilization process to determine the quality of the sperm. From there, they can decide if IVF is adequate way to proceed, or if ICSI is likely to result in more usable embryos. This procedure can save a couple thousands of dollars over the course of their IVF journey through quicker embryo creation, and potentially, higher positive transfer results.
Squeezing the Embryo
We squeeze fruit to test its ripeness, and this new technique is not much different. Researchers at Stanford University first started squeezing the embryos of mice to see which would “bounce back” from the applied pressure as a way of testing resilience. This test was done just 1 hour after fertilization, and the results were impressive. The embryos that would “bounce back” to shape were found to be much more likely to survive to the blastocyst stage and eventually go on to produce a live birth. When they applied the same technology to human embryos, they were able to predict, with up to 90% accuracy, which embryos were likely to be viable for transfer and result in a live birth.
The Future of Mitochondrial Genetics
Occasionally a woman will have a disease that inhibits the ability of her eggs to create successful embryos. These diseases can cause the embryo to not develop quickly enough, or to stop developing entirely. The current best option for these women is to seek out an egg donor. But new research is examining how to combine mitochondrial DNA from the intended mother with that from a donor. This would “super-charge” the mitochondrial information, allowing the intended mother’s egg to be strong enough to properly develop. Today, this technology is not universally accepted or practiced. At publication, it was banned outright in Canada and the UK, with the Institute of Medicine in the USA allowing it only in the research phase in the states.
Most people have a basic grasp of IVF to understand that, once created, the embryo grows in a petri dish in a laboratory for a period of 3-7 days before being implanted into the uterus of a woman. But what if that petri dish could be located inside of a woman’s body? INVOcell says it’s possible. The technology, which is approved for use in Canada as well as in the US, places the embryo inside of a tiny capsule that is then placed inside of a woman’s vagina. The embryo will then grow there for five days before being removed, and placed back into the woman’s body, this time in her uterus. Studies show that the INVOcell goes on to have just as high of a transfer success rate as traditional IVF technologies. As this science continues to evolve, it is easy to see how an intended mother could prefer this technology, as it allows her some period of time to carry her child before ultimately handing the embryo to a surrogate to grow to term.