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This IVF Treatment Could Help Older Women Conceive

Photograph by Twenty20

Older women who want to become mothers but are having fertility difficulties could benefit from a new treatment that would allow them to use their own eggs rather than a donor's eggs for a chance at having a baby.

Cryogenically freezing eggs from donors so other women can become mothers is no longer considered an experimental procedure. But some women may prefer to try using their own eggs with this new technique for a chance at having biological children if they're going to have to bear the expense of fertility treatments.

In simplest terms, doctors would harvest eggs from the mother for the procedure, as well as a sliver of tissue from healthy, but immature, eggs. In the sliver of tissue from the immature eggs is mitochondria, and the mitochondria is injected into the mature, harvested egg along with sperm to fertilize it. The added mitochondria act as a super charge to boost the likelihood that the egg will fertilize, develop into an embryo, and result in a live pregnancy.

However, this treatment option is not yet FDA-approved in the U.S., despite the fact that it was invented by a Massachusetts-based company, OvaScience. The FDA ruled in 2013 that this technique, called Augment, needs to undergo safety testing before it can be approved. The treatment may soon be available to hopeful moms-to-be in the U.K., though, as the company is seeking permission to begin trials in Britain with 20 women. That is, if they can afford the hefty price tag — which is estimated at a whopping £14,000 (about US$20,100).

The technique has already been trialed in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Canada. The first successful live birth occurred in Canada last summer; baby Zain was born to a Toronto couple that struggled with fertility and had already experienced one failed round of IVF. But it might be awhile before this procedure is more widely available, as clinical trials may not start in the U.K. until 2017 even if approved soon.

Alternatively, hopeful older moms-to-be can currently undergo a test offered by two laboratories in the U.S. which can count how much mitochondrial DNA is inside of an egg. This can help IVF doctors choose the embryo with the best chances the first time instead of women having to undergo multiple rounds of potentially unsuccessful treatments. According to Dr. Scott Roseff, a fertility specialist in Florida, this technique could not only improve odds of a successful pregnancy by about 50 percent, but it can also ease the financial and emotional strain on a couple that cannot get pregnant on their own.

Typically, women undergoing IVF treatment have multiple embryos implanted in the uterus, in hopes that one will take and result in a healthy pregnancy and live birth. For some couples, the increased chance of ending up with multiples due to IVF can be a difficult decision to make since financial constraints could mean some couples can only afford one cycle. But there are many other factors that could affect whether or not IVF is successful.

A 2015 study from the Center for Human Reproduction in New York collected and analyzed data from 380 fertility centers in the U.S. that were responsible for 92 percent of all in vitro fertilization and found that freshly harvested donor eggs result in live births at a slightly higher rate — about 6 percent — than donor eggs that have been cryogenically frozen.

Researchers at Michigan State University also came out with a study in 2015 that indicated too many follicle-stimulating hormones used during IVF cycles to help women produce more viable, mature oocytes could actually hurt a woman's chances of getting pregnant. Published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, the research analyzed more than 650,000 IVF cycles performed nationwide. The study found that as the total of FSH went up, the live birth rate decreased by as much as 15 to 20 percent — and age, health, and weight of the women or length of treatment wasn't a discriminating factor in the lower live birth rate.

Diet is also thought to be a factor with IVF success rates. Researchers say that if you start a family earlier rather than later, your chances are much better at conceiving naturally and not needing fertility treatments. But if you don't — for whatever reason — it's nice to know that you're not completely out of luck if you're destined to be an older new mom.

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