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Medical First: Infertile Woman Gives Birth Through 'IVA'

A Japanese woman is making headlines this week for giving birth to a healthy baby boy—despite the fact that a medical condition has technically left her infertile for years. And it's all thanks to a medical breakthrough we may be hearing a lot more about soon: in vitro activation, or IVA.

According to the LA Times, the new mom was just one of 27 women who agreed to undergo the experimental treatment for the first time ever. Each participant was known have a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency, or POI, which causes the ovaries to shut down prematurely and prevent follicles from producing eggs. Now if you're wondering why you've never heard of POI, it's probably because it only affects around 1 percent of women during their reproductive years. But for those who are affected, it leaves them with few options when it comes to starting a family.

"The only choice they have is to have egg donation or adoption," said Aaron Hsueh, the study's senior author. "We're trying to figure a way that this patient can have their own mature eggs when they have their own baby."

The whole procedure sounds pretty complicated, but it goes something like this: Doctors first remove part of the ovary, fragment the tissue (which allows it to grow) and inject a drug that activates the follicles. (With us so far?) Then they put all that fragmented tissue back in the patient and wait...

Women in the study were monitored for changes in estrogen levels through regular ultrasounds, which was when researchers were able to detect whether or not their body was producing new eggs. In this case, eggs were found in 8 out of 13 patients—a pretty promising find.

From there, docs retrieved the eggs, combined them with the sperm of each woman's partner, and waited some more... until each egg grew into a mature embryo. Then back into mom they went, and 9 months later, voilà! A baby is born.

The technique isn't without its kinks, but Hsueh and his colleagues assure that if further research continues to go smoothly, the benefits of IVA could go beyond the treatment of POI. For one, it could help women conceive who've been otherwise deemed infertile, due to risky cancer-killing treatments like chemo and radiation. Another possible winner in all of this? Women in their 40s, whose egg follicles have stopped growing. Researchers have high hopes the same follicle-boosting techniques would pay off there, too—the effects of which would be huge.

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