Need proof that science is amazing? Recent months have seen the kind of incredible advances in the field of infertility medicine that, not too long ago, would have seemed like something out of a sci-fi movie: a 24-year-old woman recently gave birth after having had an ovary removed and frozen -- when she was just 9 years old. And, the UK has just approved the procedure allowed a baby to be born as the result of a fertility treatment involving the DNA of three separate parents.
Both of these stories are so jaw-droppingly fascinating, it's hard to know where to start. But let's start with the three-parent news, because ... three parents!
Actually, it's not exactly what it sounds like. The point of this treatment (which involves sperm from one man and eggs from two women) isn't, in fact, to just toss another mom into the mix for no medical reason -- it's to help women conceive who have mitochondrial problems with their eggs by replacing the nucleus DNA of their eggs with that of the donor (either before or after fertilization). This way, parents who are at high risk of passing on a life-threatening mitochondrial disease (such as muscular dystrophy) to their child have a better chance of having a healthy child.
The donor's mitochondrial DNA only ends up amounting to less than one percent of the embryo's genes, so it's not like the resulting kid inherits three equal shares of DNA.
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So far, this treatment has only been approved in the U.K. -- and not everybody in the medical community is a fan (some fear that this advance will lead to "designer babies"). But there's no question that this provides a huge ray of hope to parents who worry about their ability to bring a healthy baby into the world.
The second stunning development will likewise give hope to countless women. Back when Moaza al-Matrooshi was just 9 years old, the technology behind the procedure that would one day make her a mom was unproven, but doctors gave it a shot anyway. Born with an inherited blood disorder, Ms. Matrooshi was treated with both chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant as a child.
Knowing that chemotherapy damages ovaries, her parents authorized the removal and freezing of one of her ovaries, hoping that one day science would catch up to the concept. It did: Last year, doctors transplanted "slivers" of the thawed ovarian tissue into her body; miraculously, eggs started to grow!
Doctors were able to perform a round of in vitro fertilization (even though Ms. Matrooshi had previously technically been in menopause). Now, she and her husband have a healthy baby boy! (Read more about the extremely interesting but super complex treatment here.)
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Women struggle with infertility and other reproductive issues for so many, many reasons -- the fact that medicine is finally developing ways to address these very specific issues is just incredible. Who knows what other seemingly unconquerable conditions doctors will find a way to beat next? Stories like these are proof that no matter what our particular medical challenge, we should never, ever lose hope.