Infertility is diagnosed when a couple has tried to become pregnant for one year without success. Infertility is a fairly common problem in developed countries, as more and more people are waiting until they are in their 30s to start a family. However, people are living longer and taking care of their health more, which is possibly why infertility rates have decreased in recent years.
According to the CDC, 12% of women ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying pregnancy to term. This number is of course much higher if the group is narrowed down to women ages 35-44. The majority of women 44 and older are infertile. Women using eggs that are over 44 years old only have about a 1% chance of success through in vitro fertilization.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process of fertilization in a laboratory (literally ‘fertilization in glass’). The current rate of success for in vitro fertilization is around 38% for women in their late 30s, and 18% for those in their early 40s.
*Chart from the Advanced Fertility Clinic of Chicago based on CDC data.
By the age of 38, fertility rates start to decline drastically. However, as seen in the chart above, studies on IVF have shown that the age of a woman’s uterus and body as a whole do not matter nearly as much when it comes to getting pregnant and having a healthy baby as the age of the egg itself.
As egg cells age, their mitochondrial function is reduced. The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. This means the cell has less energy, and is less likely to perform the functions it needs to perform as it ages.
However, a procedure has recently been developed that boosts the vitality of older eggs and makes them act like young eggs again. It works by taking the mitochondria from egg precursor cells or stem cells found in a woman’s own ovaries, also known as egg precursor cells, that haven’t fully developed and putting those cells into older eggs. This laparoscopic procedure is a proprietary product called AUGMENT developed by OvaScience, a global company dedicated to infertility treatments.
On May 7 of this year, the first baby was born in Toronto, Canada after treatment with the AUGMENT method, a laparoscopic procedure that involves extracting the mitochondria from ovarian stem cells and injecting them into mature eggs. Since then, the AUGMENT procedure has been used in several other countries including the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. They plan to offer this fertility treatment soon in Japan and the UK. According to Dr. Michael Fakih, clinical pregnancy rates in women that have previously had no success with IVF procedures increased from just 4% to 22% with AUGMENT.
The AUGMENT treatment is not currently available in the US because the FDA considers it to be a form of “gene therapy”. Gene therapy involves replacing a mutated gene with a healthy one, inactivating a mutated gene or introducing a new gene into the body.