Doctors in Canada have begun a new chapter in medical history, delivering the first in a wave of babies expected to be born this summer through a technique that some experts think can dramatically improve the success rate of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Now 22 days old, Zain Rajani was born through a new method that relies on the discovery that women have, in their own ovaries, a possible solution to infertility caused by poor egg quality. Pristine stem cells of healthy, yet-to-be developed eggs that can help make a woman’s older eggs act young again. Unlike other kinds of stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any kind of cell in the body, including cancerous ones, these precursor cells can only form eggs.
Scientists from OvaScience, the fertility company that is providing Augment, then identified and removed the egg stem cells and purified them to extract their mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, a molecular battery that energizes everything a cell does. Adding the mitochondria from these egg precursor cells to Natasha’s poor-quality eggs and her husband Omar’s sperm dramatically improved their IVF results. In the Rajanis’ first traditional-IVF attempt, Natasha produced 15 eggs, but only four were fertilized—just one of those matured to the point were Natasha’s doctor felt comfortable transferring it. “I knew it wasn’t the best-quality embryo, but it was what she had,” says. Dr. Marjorie Dixon, of First Steps Fertility.
With Augment, the Rajanis produced four embryos, two of which have been frozen should the couple decide to have more children. Another one became baby Zain.
It’s not currently available in the U.S., since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the process of introducing mitochondria a form of gene therapy, which it regulates. So far, some three dozen women in four countries have tried the technique, and eight are currently pregnant. All of the women have had at least one unsuccessful cycle of IVF; some have had as many as seven.
OvaScience’s proprietary technology platform leverages the breakthrough discovery of egg precursor (EggPCSM) cells. EggPC cells are immature egg cells found inside the protective ovarian lining that have the potential to be matured into new, fertilizable eggs. It was long believed a woman was born with a set number of eggs that die over time. The presence of EggPC cells changes that fundamental understanding about female biology, and opens up extraordinary possibilities to help women improve their fertility.
EggPC cells were first discovered by one of OvaScience’s scientific founders, Jonathan Tilly, Ph.D. Subsequent research demonstrated that EggPC cells exist in human ovaries and have the potential to develop into mature eggs, thereby replenishing a woman’s egg supply.
With Augment, the cells used—and their mitochondrial genes—are from the mother’s own ovaries. Still, the FDA requested more studies on the effect of adding mitochondria, even from the mother who provides the egg, to the IVF process. OvaScience plans to conduct 1000 cycles using Augment this year, and generate more data that will help bring the procedure to the U.S.
The breakthrough discovery of egg precursor (EggPCSM) cells in humans changed the long-held belief that women have a finite supply of eggs – and opens up extraordinary possibilities to help women improve their fertility.
EggPC cells are immature egg cells found inside the protective ovarian lining that have the potential to be matured into healthy, young, fertilizable eggs. OvaScience is leveraging EggPC cells to create treatments that can expand a woman’s egg reserve and help her produce new eggs without hormone injections.
IVF success rates are frequently tied to the age of the patient. While most women know that age impacts their fertility, often they do not realize that it can impact IVF outcomes too. OvaScience’s treatments have the potential to increase IVF success rates by improving egg health, increasing egg reserve and developing the next generation of IVF.
In December 2013, OvaScience and Intrexon formed a joint venture called OvaXon, which is focused on developing new applications to prevent the transmission of inherited diseases by gene-correcting egg precursor (EggPCSM) cells for applications in human and animal health.
The AUGMENT treatment (launched in certain IVF clinics in select international regions in 2014) is specifically designed to improve a patient’s egg health. Improved egg health may offer the potential for enhanced IVF.
The OvaPrime treatment (plan to introduce to patients in at least one international region by end of 2015) is a potential fertility option that could enable a woman to increase her egg reserve.
The OvaTure treatment (currently in preclinical development) is a potential next-generation IVF treatment that could help a woman produce healthy, young, fertilizable eggs without hormone injections.
SOURCE – Time.com, Ovascience