Can’t get pregnant? IVF not working? How about a pair of surrogate twiblings or a lab-assisted ‘lift’ for your 40-year old eggs? Welcome to Fertility’s New Dawn
Once considered the ultimate in high-tech fertility treatment, a staggering 15,000 babies are now born through IVF a year (and this is rising by 10 per cent each year). Everyone knows at least one couple who have had fertility treatment. Now, as IVF becomes commonplace a whole new generation of baby-making techniques is changing the way we look at motherhood. Some of these are not even legal in the UK (like sex selection) while others are quietly – and not-so-quietly – happening in fertility clinics here and around the world.
Embryos on film Currently, about 24 per cent of implanted IVF embryos in the UK lead to live births. But last month headlines screamed of a new technique that could increase this figure to a staggering 78 per cent. Currently, most incubated IVF embryos are checked manually each day by embryologists, and the best are implanted into the womb. This hasn’t really changed since Louise Brown was born from the first IVF experiment in 1988. The new technique, pioneered by Care Fertility Nottingham, uses time lapse cameras that take pictures of the embryo every ten minutes without interfering with its development. It’s non-invasive and according to Simon Fishel, Care’s managing director is ‘The most exciting breakthrough we’ve had in probably 30 years.’
Making your eggs younger This is technique called Cytoplasmic Transfer (CT) in which scientiists take the egg of an older lady and zhoosh it up with the ‘cytoplasm’ from a younger woman’s healthy, donated egg. This is supposed to keep all the original egg’s genetic material intact but occasionally babies born from this test positive for having DNA from two different mothers.
Choose your baby’s sex This is illegal in Britain but not in the US and other countries such as Cyprus. News reports suggest that Brits are queuing up in overseas countries like these to have the sex of their embryos sex-selected before they’re implanted. A leading Liverpool fertility doctor who referred couples to a Cyprus fertility clinic for sex selection was investigated by the HFEA in 2011 but later cleared of profiting from the procedure.
Embryo selection For women who are too old and highly unlikely to conceive by any other means natural or IVF, a new technique – the very Alien-sounding Comparative Genomic Hybridisation (CGH) – screens a woman’s embryos and literally chooses the fittest one/s and those most likely to grow into a healthy baby before they are implanted into her. The first babies in the UK born as a result of this were born in October 2009. The trial of some 42 women with a mean age of 39 showed they increased their chances of getting pregnant by two and a half times.
Twiblings This is the trend for getting two surrogates to carry your children so that they are born on or around the same time and so you get ready-made family when you want it. Melanie Thernstrom, 42 and her partner Michael, a couple based in US who had the world’s first twiblings had had six failed IVF attempts. So they got Michael’s sperm and anonymous donor eggs and two surrogates to carry the children separately so the children would be born on or around same day (they were born days apart in the end). Now they are toddlers, Melanie with unabashed honesty told the New York Times, ‘I treated having babies like my project,like building a house.’
Egg-preneurs New rules from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) now allow egg donors to receive a fixed payment of £750 for a cycle of eggs. But in the US, egg donation is on the free market like everything else. It’s led to a rise in egg-preneurs. Imagine a talent agency where you didn’t join because of your one-handed aerial flip but to sell your eggs. As a result, donated eggs from young healthy women are big business in the US.
Dawn T Hunt runs fertilityalternatives.com. Having donated eggs five times herself, she knows what it takes and has now set herself up as a middle woman for anyone wanting to donate eggs. The object? To get the best deal for the donor. Hunt says egg donors can demand $5-10,000US and if they are Ivy League graduates she would indeed ‘go in with a starting price of $8000’.
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