A new process called in vitro activation (IVA) is taking huge strides forward for women in the world of infertility. The process takes an ovary (or a piece of ovarian tissue) and treats it with proteins and other nutrients to help immature follicles mature into eggs outside of a woman's body. It's then reimplanted into a woman's ovaries to help them conceive. Currently, more than 6.7 American women suffer from infertility and over 1 percent struggle to conceive due to poor-quality eggs. But if the IVA process takes off (which is likely), it would make it possible for more women to get pregnant from their own healthy, matured eggs.
Dr. Valerie Baker, director of Stanford's Program for Primary Ovarian Insufficiency said, "The women and their partners come to me in tears. To suddenly learn at a young age that your childbearing potential is gone is very difficult. This technique could potentially help women who have lost their egg supply for any reason."
Researchers from Stanford University found that for women that don't produce the regular amounts of estrogen they need to nurture and develop healthy, viable eggs every month, the onset of menopause begins well before they turn 40. Their research focuses on making conception a possibility for those women without the hefty costs of fertility treatments. Their study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, included 27 women and they proudly note that the research was meant to "reawaken" the follicles that didn't develop properly.
And though the sample size was small — the results are truly groundbreaking: five of the women in the study produced viable eggs, one is currently pregnant and one of the women gave birth to a healthy baby.
Just by those numbers alone, the Stanford team is optimistic that the IVA process could be used to help even more infertile women get pregnant without having to rely on egg donors to get there. It might even be able to help women recovering from cancer or other chemotherapy treatments conceive.
When Healthland.Time.com reporters spoke with Andrew La Barbera, scientific director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, he said that the research is exciting for women that want to conceive using their own eggs. The breakthrough in the research, he adds, suggests that it may just be a matter of stimulating those immature eggs in the right way. "All of the patients had evidence of preexisting follicles in the ovarian fragments that were harvested. That makes this paper all the more interesting scientifically because it suggests that primary ovarian insufficiency might not be due to simply ‘running out of follicles’ but rather might be due to inadequate stimulation.
Here's to the future of IVA — and to the possibilities it may bring for women everywhere.
Did you use alternative methods to conceive?