Fertility perservation

Can menopause be reversed with stem cells?

Restoring fertility with stem cells: Princeton IVF blog
 New research suggests bone marrow stem cells could be used restore estrogen and fertility in women with early menopause.

It may become possible in the near future

Women who suffer from premature menopause, also known as primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) or primary ovarian failure (POF) have either run out of eggs or no eggs capable of being stimulated.

This can occur for a number of reasons but early menopause causes 2 major problems for women who suffer from it. One is infertility, and this type of infertility can usually only be successfully treated with donor egg IVF. The other problem is hormonal. With the depletion of ovarian follicles, levels of reproductive hormones, especially estrogen, drop dramatically. The low levels of estrogen can cause a number of problems including vaginal dryness, difficulty with intercourse, hot flushes, bone loss and loss of sleep to name a few.

So, if there was a safe way to restore eggs to an ovary that has shut down prematurely, it might be a great advance in women's health care.

With that in mind, the ROSE trial was undertaken. The researchers injected cells from the bone marrow, which is rich in stem cells into the ovaries in an attempt to help regenerate new eggs.

Obtaining cells from the bone marrow is a fairly routine medical procedure and injecting substances into the ovarian is also not a new procedure. What is new about this is combining the two and using stem cell to restore ovarian function.

The few patients in the trial had an increase in the size of their ovaries and higher estrogen levels even a year out of from the procedure.

It will still take time and more studies to determine how safe and effective stem cells from the bone marrow are at restoring functioning ovaries and fertility to women with premature menopause / POI, but the results so far are encouraging. 

 

Rhode Island mandates fertility preservation

First state mandates egg freezing insurance coverage: Princeton IVF blog

First state requires fertility preservation coverage from insurers

 Egg freezing insurance coverage

What is fertility preservation?

It refers to obtaining, freezing and storing eggs, sperm or embryos for future use. 

Why would one want to preserve fertility?

There are several reasons:

  • If you are undergoing treatment for cancer or other diseases that require treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation or surgery which are likely to cause infertility.
  • If you need to defer having a baby but are concerned you may be too old when you are ready
  • If you do not have a partner, are concerned about waiting but not ready to use a sperm donor.

What is the signIficance of the Rhode Island law?

This is the first time in the US that fertility preservation insurance coverage has been mandated by law. A number of states do require treatment for infertility but not necessarily fertility preservation. That could change in the future.

Where can I learn more about the mandate?

Here is a link to the Rhode Island law.

What do I do if I am about to get chemotherapy and want to learn more?

This is a discussion you need to have ASAP with your oncologist and a reproductive medicine specialist. Ideally the process should happen before cancer treatment starts, and your oncologist will want to delay treatment as little as possible. If you are in our area and would like to see us at Princeton IVF, please call at 609-896-4984 or 609-896-0777 to set up an appointment.

 

Eggs and fertility after menopause?

Making Eggs after Menopause: Princeton IVF blog

Researchers in Greece report being able to generate eggs from women who have already gone through menopause.

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Doctors in Greece may have found a way to make postmenopausal women grow eggs.

As reported in the New Scientist, fertility researchers have been looking into a new way of potential of helping women in menopause continue to produce eggs. As a women ages, the number and quality of her eggs inevitably declines. By the average age of menopause at age 51-52, there are relatively few eggs left in the ovary, and those that do remain, generally are of such poor quality that ovulation just simply ceases. When this happens, fertility disappears, menstrual periods stop and the symptoms of the lack of estrogen such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness get worse. These symptoms of menopause actually start years before the periods stop but the potential for pregnancy, even if it small, remains.

What if there was a way to reverse this? With this in mind, a team in Greece tried using something called platelet-rich plasma to see if it was possible to regenerate eggs. Platelet rich plasma (PRP) has been used with some success to try and regenerate injured bone and muscle. Among other things, it contains a mixture of growth factors, chemicals found throughout the body that are involved in the natural processes of inflammation and tissue repair. The idea was to try to use the PRP to regenerate ovarian tissue and somehow activate the dormant eggs to grow.

Regenerative medicine for reproductive medicine

The researchers did find some success, and a number of these women did begin to ovulate again. In one patient, they were even able to harvest and fertilize some of these eggs through IVF. The embryos were frozen for later use, so it is unknown whether this procedure can actually result in a pregnancy.

There are still lots of unanswered questions before we can consider this an option for infertile couples in menopause, early or otherwise. We know that the eggs are generally of poor quality in women in their late 40's and when there is fertilization that embryos are generally unhealthy. These embryos rarely implant, and when they do the risk of miscarriage and genetic disorders such as Down Syndrome is quite high. It is not uncommon for women in above 45 to produce enough eggs to do IVF, but it is uncommon that any are good enough to result in a healthy pregnancy. Would the eggs from PRP be any different?

While it is possible that the PRP may improve the quality of these eggs to the point where they can result in a healthy baby, it is just as likely (if not more so) that they they will not. We don't know if the center that reported this data will be able continue to get patients to respond as time goes on or if other fertility clinics will be able to replicate these results. We also do not know if the benefits are short acting or long term, and if they are long acting what the implications are for these patients. Does it mean that a 60 year old can now conceive on her own or how will the continuation of menstrual cycles beyond the natural time affect a woman's risk of diseases such cancer or heart issues? The implications, both medical and ethical, could be enormous.

At this point, it is still just an interesting idea. Still, the prospect of being able to restart a menopausal ovary is intriguing to fertility specialists and their patients.

Is it possible to stop the biological clock?

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Today, age is the most important determinant of woman's ability to conceive both naturally and with treatments such as IVF, but might it be possible to overcome the "biologic clock"? 

It is has been understood for many years that a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever produce and that she begins to lose eggs even before she is born. The eggs seem to work reasonably well into the early 30's but in the late 30's  and particularly in the 40's the number and quality of those eggs diminish considerably. We know that most if not all of that drop is the result of abnormal chromosomes in the eggs and when genetically abnormal eggs fertilize they produce genetically abnormal embryos. Most genetically abnormal embryos will not implant in the womb, and if they do, they usually miscarry.

These abnormal eggs result from errors in a process call meiosis. If this sounds familiar from high school biology, it is. Meiosis is the process by which reproductive stem cells produce eggs and sperm for reproduction. Most scientists nowadays believe that these errors result, at least in part, from a lack of the energy needed to divide the chromosomes properly, and that energy comes from cell's natural batteries, the mitochondria.

Now, a biotech company has come up with a technique to transfer fresh young, energy-rich mitochondria into a woman's eggs, and has even achieved a live birth with it. Sounds like a miracle cure? Maybe, maybe not.  If proven successful and safe, it has the potential to revolutionize IVF treatment for women over 35 and extend the age at which non-donor IVF may be successful. Still, don't expect to see it an IVF clinic near you any time soon. First, we do not know how effective this technique really is and most importantly whether it results in healthy children. The technology involves cloning technology and "3-parent IVF," and it is unlikely that will get past regulatory agencies here in the US anytime soon.

 

Egg freezing- the controversy continues

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Egg freezing- Is it effective and is it a "fertility insurance?"

Several years back the American Society for Reproductive Medicine declared that the freezing and storage of unfertilized eggs (oocyte cryopreservation) was no longer experimental. Reproductive science specialists have worked out the kinks and figured how to freeze, thaw, fertilize and grow these eggs, and from them get healthy live born children. The initial focus was to help women who wanted to have children, but were facing cancer treatment (surgery, chemotherapy or radiation) that might render them sterile. The data on pregnancy rates was very sparse but it in comparison to the alternative in these women, moving forward was a no brainer.

Now researchers in in Canada, have published on the outcomes in couples based on US data. The pregnancy rates range from 4-12 %, and that is in young women under 30.  The rates are likely much lower in women in their 30s and 40s. While not great, it does offer some hope where there was none before. The problems is that now egg freezing is being used to delay childbearing in women for social reasons. With the announcement by google that they will pay for the procedure in their employees and the advent of "egg freezing parties," this is becoming more widespread.

As reproductive medicine specialists, we all want to offer our patients reproductive freedom, the ability to have children at a time that works out in their lives. Undoubtably, freezing and storing eggs for future use will enable some women to have children well into their 40's and early 50's. However, those who are unsuccessful with frozen eggs, and there will be many of them, will be left little choice other than using eggs from a donor, knowing that their biologic clock ran out while they had other priorities in life.

The problem is this: Is egg freezing an answer to a real problem? or is it giving women false hope? It may be a little of both. Only time will tell as the technology moves forward.