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Canadian Fertility Clinic Offers Controversial Treatment

It may sound like some type of futuristic sci-fi book, but it's real and it's happening in the not-so-distant land of Canada. Toronto, to be exact. At the Toronto Center for Advanced Reproductive Technology, women who are having trouble conceiving due to poor egg quality are given the option to go through a revolutionary surgical procedure that basically puts mitochondria extracted from "immature" egg cells in the woman's ovaries into more "mature" eggs, which are then combined with sperm like a traditional IVF procedure.

Still confused?

Dr. Robert Casper, the reproductive endocrinologist who runs the center, compares a woman's mature eggs to a flashlight that simply needs new batteries to function again. And the "batteries" in this case are the mitochondria. Casper shares with NPR, “Like a flashlight sitting on a shelf in a closet for 38 years, there really isn’t anything wrong with the flashlight ... [b]ut it doesn’t work when you try to turn it on because the batteries have run down. And we think that’s very similar to what’s happening physiologically in women as they get into their 30s.” So basically by getting younger mitochondria and injecting them into the older eggs, it's like replacing the batteries, thus giving new life (no pun intended) into these eggs.

Still, not everyone is on board with this technique (named Augment by the company that invented it), especially since there have been no success stories from it yet. And there are still too many unknowns with Augment — like, could it possibly contribute to birth defects or future health problems for the mother? While Dr. Casper says he "feel[s] pretty confident [Augment is] not going to do any harm," there's really no way to know for sure quite yet.

The procedure itself adds an additional $25,000 to the already high price of IVF and is not yet approved in the United States. For interested patients, they can check out the aforementioned center in Toronto, or others in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

Out of the 20 women who have undergone the procedure, 8 are currently pregnant, with the first one due in April with twins. So stay tuned!

Image via Getty Images

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