Each woman is supposedly born with a limited supply of eggs, and once they run out...that's it. This company wants to fix that.
Women may live longer, but they get the short straw when it comes to fertility. Many are only fertile for a relatively short amount of time, IVF is often ineffective, and freezing eggs has become popular. In today's world expenses and work pressures are pushing the average pregnancy age upwards, but it can quickly become expensive and stressful.
There may be a solution.
In 2004 egg precursor cells, EPCs, were discovered in mice ovaries. When these were studied further, scientists showed they could develop into a mature egg, become fertilized and produce healthy offspring. In 2012, these cells were isolated in humans.
These developments challenge the 'limited eggs' doctrine we've grown accustomed to. These humans cells could be coaxed into forming a mature egg cell, which is potentially groundbreaking - if it works. A company called Ovascience is now developing a treatment called OvaPrime, and aims to take these discoveries to market. OvaPrime involves removal of the EPCs and re-implantation in the central section of the ovary, in the hopes they'll boost fertility.
But are these egg cells healthy?
There are concerns that even if egg cells could be produced, in older patients they may have mutations or damage. By age 44, only 12% of embryos have normal chromosomes. Protection mechanisms are retained for longer in men, but there's still increasing risk with age. The question is, have these EPCs aged like other egg cells? The company says no, but we'll need more testing to be sure.
Are healthy mitochondria key to a healthy egg cell?
Stem cell populations avoid accumulating damage far better than most cells do, and these EPCs come under this category. Chromosome stability isn't the only thing that's important; mitochondria play a role too. We need more evidence, but there's hope these EPCs retain healthier mitochondria and could produce healthier children.
These are 2 solutions: Implantation and Rejuvenation
Ovascience has 2 solutions to the infertility problem. OvaPrime is the first, in which EPCs are extracted and implanted to encourage new egg production. The 2nd, Augment, involves removing healthier mitochondria from EPCs, and injecting them into any pre-existing egg cells to improve their viability. Even if there are some eggs left, older mothers often struggle to produce viable embryos with them. This may be because of failing cellular batteries, which struggle to maintain division. These 2 treatments aim to both boost egg production, and improve the quality of any remaining.
Don't get too excited yet
These treatments have not yet been vigorously confirmed, or tested. They're hopeful, but it'll take time to establish whether they're effective or not. The treatment is being rolled out as a trial later this year, but the price could be limiting - Augment add $25,000 dollars on top of the IVF price tag.
It remains to be seen whether these treatments really will stop the clock, but if they work it could be a fantastic development.
Read more at the Daily Beast