Britain has now legalized three-parent IVF and it’s about time that other countries followed suit. Even though the medical landscape is changing at a rapid pace, when it comes to certain changes, the world hems and haws and contemplates and shrugs-off that change. Three-parent IVF is a medical advance that can prevent mitochondrial disease from manifesting itself in a new born child- but the concern that critics have is that it can lead to a trend of creating “designer babies”
Over 30 years ago, medical researchers successfully united sperm & egg in a lab dish and produced the first children that were born from IVF (In vitro fertilization) or what are also known as “test-tube babies”. What seemed futuristic at that point of time is now very commonplace and across the world, an estimated 5 million children are conceived via IVF. Technologies continue on their sprint ahead and the projection is that in the next decade & beyond, fertility treatments are slated to become even more effective , inexpensive & more widespread too.
A Change on the Horizon
These treatments will become a common method for women to stretch their fertile years and couples will also be able to avoid passing-on serious medical conditions to their kids. However, there are a number of ethical issues in play here, such as the concept that parents may also be able to select the specific traits they want their children to have . Let’s take a look at how the fertility treatment landscape is set to undergo a transformation in the short and long term.
• Genetic Screening- This technology is used by IVF clinics today, but its use will become widespread. In this procedure, embryos created by In Vitro Fertilization are screened before they are implanted. This screening checks for genetic abnormalities using PGS/ NGS.
• Egg Freezing- This procedure has been around for several years; however, it’s only recently that researchers have found a freezing method that does minimal damage to the eggs. The slow-freezing method that was previously used caused damage to the cell structure of the egg. Over the last 5 years a new technique allows fast freezing which prevents this kind of damage. In the future, it is a distinct possibility that even women in their early-20s, will opt for egg freezing
• 'Three-parent' Embryos- It is essentially intended to prevent the transfer of mitochondrial diseases (including muscle weakness, seizures, hearing loss & vision impairment), from the mother to child. This method involves taking DNA from the nucleus of the egg of a woman who has a mitochondrial disease & putting it into an egg of another woman, whose mitochondria are healthy. The egg is then fertilized with a man's sperm.
• Fewer Hormones- Currently, daily hormone injections are a part and parcel of IVF. Women who are undergoing this treatment have to take these injections for almost 2 weeks. The hormones stimulate the ovaries to increase the production of eggs. Now, IVM (In Vitro Maturation) uses significantly lower doses of these hormones and fewer injections, to obtain eggs quicker. Currently, the success rates of this method are less than that of IVF and research is in progress to find ways of improving the method
• Stem Cells for Egg & Sperm Production- Experiments in mice have shown that animal’s skin cells can be converted into stem cells. In turn, these can be converted into precursor cells for egg & sperm. If these cells are implanted in sterile mice, the animals become fertile and produce egg & sperm that can be used to give birth to live baby mice.
Though it’s bound to take years for researchers to figure out whether this method will work in humans & is safe; it’s a distinct possibility that stem cells may be used to make egg and sperm in humans in the future.
• Womb Transplants- Early in 2014, Swedish doctors said that uterus transplants had been performed on 9 women (some whose wombs had been removed because of cancer and some were born sans a womb). Living relatives had donated the wombs, but women who have received them can’t become pregnant via intercourse- IVF becomes an option for them
There are a number of medical ramifications to this procedure including the womb being rejected by the recipient’s body or the fetus being affected. But in the future, womb transplants might be used in certain cases
And so, even as the IVF space changes, so will people’s perception and acceptance of the various procedures used in it and infertile couples will be presented with newer and more effective methods of having the babies they want.
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