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Scientific developments that could change the future of fertility

Posted on 7.3.17

Artificially created Embryos

In March 2017 a scientific paper was published that caught the attention of the world’s media with its sensational and controversial potential. Scientists at the University of Cambridge were able to create a structure that closely resembled a mouse embryo- from two kinds of stem cells. The scientists placed a 3D scaffold with the stem cells in a chemical mix designed to encourage and promote their development into an embryo.

Knowing how development normally occurs will allow us to understand why it so often goes wrong".

The team used genetically engineered embryonic stem cells with placental stem cells, which divided and organized themselves in a coherent pattern forming a rudimentary embryonic structure or blastocyst. It was unlikely that the ‘embryo’ would have developed past this stage as they lacked a third type of stem cell that is needed to form the yolk sac needed for further growth. Professor Zernicka-Goetz, who led the team said: “We are very optimistic that this will allow us to study key events of this critical stage of human development without actually having to work on embryos. Knowing how development normally occurs will allow us to understand why it so often goes wrong.”

Although the research is at an early stage it is hoped that by understanding the early development of a mammal that the knowledge gained will help scientist understand the development of human embryos. Eventually, this may lead to practical applications being developed by embryologists to improve the outcomes for women who have suffered recurrent miscarriages. Progress will be slow but may ultimately benefit women who suffer early miscarriages because of the blastocyst failing to implant and may help embryologists develop more favourable conditions for embryo growth.

Womb transplant

For women born without a womb and therefore an inability to carry their own child one of the most exciting advances in the field is uterine transplants. It is still very much an experimental technique but there have now been several babies born as a result of uterine transplants.  In 2014 a Swedish woman was the first uterine transplant recipient to successfully gave birth. The 36-year-old woman had healthy functioning ovaries but had been born without a uterus and received a uterus from a 61-year-old donor. Like other organ recipients the woman received immune-suppressive therapy to prevent her body rejecting the donor organ but she was able to successfully conceive and carry her own baby.

The woman was one of nine who received transplants as part of the experimental study and many of the women have already had children, something that might once have been impossible.

Mitochondrial donation

In early 2017 news of the first ‘three-parent baby’ being born caused some controversy and surprise. The technique involves an egg and a sperm being collected from the two parents and an egg donor providing healthy mitochondria. The term ‘three parents’ is slightly misleading as although the child has genetic material from his father, mother and a mitochondrial donor, the mitochondrial DNA is not thought to affect physical characteristics. Mitochondria are the power packs of the cell and are inherited solely from the mother. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA lead to fatal disorders and the ability to replace faulty mitochondria from a donor could help carriers of this condition have healthy babies.

In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved the use of the technique to help women with mitochondrial diseases to conceive healthy babies, after an extensive consultation on the safety, feasibility and ethics of the procedure.

A study in 2015 identified inherited mitochondrial diseases in 154 women having fertility issues. As of early 2017, no babies had yet been born in the UK using the technique. Given the technique has only recently been medically approved for cautious use, it’s only a matter of time before babies in the UK will be born using this technique.

Latest advancements in IVF

Although some of these techniques may be a long way from being routinely offered in the clinic, The Bridge Centre offers a range of cutting-edge IVF treatments using the latest medical advances. ‘One by One’ is our pioneering approach to improve the chance of a healthy baby being born.

dramatically reduces miscarriage rates and increases the likelihood of a healthy baby being born"

By using the most advanced genome screening techniques, our embryologists check the embryos for the correct number of chromosomes and transfer only the embryo with the best chance of becoming a healthy baby. Since chromosomal abnormalities are thought to be a leading cause of miscarriage, this approach dramatically reduces miscarriage rates and increases the likelihood of a healthy baby being born. It also helps to reduce the likelihood of a twin pregnancy and all the complications associated with a multiple pregnancy and birth.

To find out more about our treatments and the ‘One by One’ technique please click below to ask us a question.

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