Researchers at Stanford University have developed a new technique that may help infertile women become pregnant, according to a study released Monday.
About 1 percent of American women of reproductive age suffer from a condition known as "primary ovarian insufficiency," in which their ovaries do not function normally and fail to produce eggs regularly, which often results in infertility, according to the study. Aaron Hsueh, the study's senior author and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford, developed a technique with his team called "in vitro activation" in which doctors remove part of a woman's ovary, treat it outside her body, and replace it near her fallopian tubes. With the help of hormone treatment, doctors are able to stimulate the growth of eggs. Their findings were published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using this technique, doctors at the St. Marianna University School of Medicine in Kawasaki, Japan, successfully stimulated the growth of eggs in five women. One has given birth and another is currently pregnant.
Kazuhiro Kawamura, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at St. Marianna , headed the clinical research in Japan and delivered the baby that resulted from this treatment.
"I could not sleep the night before the operation, but when I saw the healthy baby, my anxiety turned to delight," Kawamura said in a statement. "The couple and I hugged each other in tears. I hope that IVA will be able to help patients with primary ovarian insufficiency throughout the world."
For women with primary ovarian insufficiency, the only option for becoming pregnant is egg donation. But with this new technique, the women were able to become pregnant using their own eggs after growth was stimulated. Doctors then treated the eggs through in vitro fertilization and replaced them into the women's bodies.
Women are born with approximately 800,000 small follicles that each produce eggs intermittently throughout a woman's life. Only about 1,000 start to grow each month, with one producing an egg, according to Hsueh.
"It's not known exactly how the follicles are selected for development, or why these follicles stop developing in women with primary ovarian insufficiency," Hsueh said in a statement. "But our treatment was able to awaken some of the remaining primordial follicles and cause them to release eggs."
Although further testing is required, the researchers plan to study whether this technique will be successful in women with other causes of infertility, or those with early menopause, which can be brought on by cancer chemotherapy or radiation.
Valerie Baker, chief of Stanford's division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility, said in a statement that the approach looks "promising" but that more data is needed before researchers can guarantee a success rate.
"These women and their partners come to me in tears," Baker, who was not involved in the research, said in the statement. "To suddenly learn at a young age that your childbearing potential is gone is very difficult. This technique could potentially help women who have lost their egg supply for any reason."