First baby born with IVF that uses stem cells to pep up old eggs
Zain Rajani was born three weeks ago in Canada after his parents opted for a new type of IVF marketed under the name Augment. The procedure is supposed to enhance the quality of a woman’s eggs by injecting them with mitochondria taken from her ovarian stem cells.
Some media reports say this is the breakthrough that will usher in the next big advance in IVF, but experts New Scientist spoke to were sceptical. Let’s weigh up the evidence.
So women have stem cells in their ovaries? Does this mean they can make new eggs? I thought women were born with all the eggs they were ever going to have.
That was the dogma until a few years ago, when a group at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston discovered stem cells tucked away in the protective lining of the ovary that mature into fresh eggs. The finding suggested that new eggs are produced throughout life and was hailed as revealing that there are limitless eggs for IVF treatments. It was suggested at the time that this could also allow older eggs to be rejuvenated.
The team that made the discovery, led by Jonathan Tilly, then partnered with OvaScience. It was this company that announced the birth of Zain on 7 May.
How did the stem cells help Zain’s mother conceive?
The idea is that the mitochondria – cellular energy generators – in young, primitive cells function much better than those in the mature eggs collected for IVF. Collecting these mitochondria and injecting them into the prospective mother’s mature eggs is supposed to improve their quality. In its press release, OvaScience says: “This treatment is designed to improve egg health by increasing the eggs’ energy levels for embryo development.”
It seems to have worked, at least in the Rajani case?
It’s hard to draw any conclusions from the information released so far. The OvaScience press release says that “initial positive experiences of pregnancies with the treatment have been reported”.
Time magazine reports that 36 women in four countries have tried the technique, and eight are currently pregnant. It also says that there have been no formal clinical trials of the procedure but that OvaScience are planning to carry out 1000 rounds of IVF around the world this year using Augment, partly to convince the US Food and Drug Administration to approve the treatment in the US.