Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Infertility Treatments & Technology - We've Come a Long Way, Baby

I remember so clearly when Louise Brown was born in 1978. I was only 8 years old, but I was fascinated with this miracle child, the first "test tube baby." The idea that doctors could intervene to fertilise a woman's egg outside of her body, then introduce it back and have it grow into a healthy child was pretty earth-shattering back then. Not that my parents really wanted to talk to me about it, but I was amazed. Of course, by the time I had my own IVF procedure in 2004, these fertility treatments had become commonplace. Commonplace, but with no guaranteed results. It was nerve-wracking.

If you've never dealt with infertility, it's difficult to imagine the incredible stress, the worry, the tears that come with it. And the treatments aren't easy on the body. After four years of trying to conceive, many tests, lots of temperature charts and fertility drugs, we took the big step and got referred to a fertility clinic. Our infertility was "unexplained," so no one really knew what to do about it. 

It was decided we should try IUI, or Intra-Uterine Insemination, which was covered by the provincial health plan (most of it anyway). Briefly, that meant I took medications and gave myself injections and visited the clinic on a series of early mornings for ultrasounds and bloodwork. When my body appeared ready to ovulate, my husband provided his "sample," which was prepared in a lab, selecting only the strongest & healthiest swimmers, and delivered by a nurse. No eggs left my body. The science here is delivering the best sperm at the optimal time.

The procedure didn't work.

A couple of months later, we tried again, with a higher dose of meds, to try to force more eggs to mature. And boy were we successful with that part of it. There were so many, it wasn't safe to do an IUI, for fear of me creating a whole soccer team in there. The doctors needed more control, so we moved to IVF. My eggs were collected (and it hurt like nothing I'd ever experienced), they were mixed with my husband's sperm, and they were left to do their thing and grow. When, finally, the well-developed, fertilised eggs were re-introduced to my body (that part was painless), I was so excited, and hopeful, and scared. And when we learned that there was no implantation, that we were not going to get our longed-for baby, I was devastated.

I cried for days. And to be honest that likely had a lot to do with the high level of hormones I'd been pumping into my body. My stomach was an expanse of bruises from all the injections I'd been giving myself. The last couple of nights of treatment I could barely find a spot to place the needle. I was in so much pain, and my emotions were a mess, and I had to force myself to keep going. It was brutal. Then after the procedure, I dutifully inserted my progesterone suppositories every day (twice a day? It's a blur now.) I did everything right. The doctors did everything right. My husband did everything right. And we were still unsuccessful. And no one could say why.

But maybe there is more we could have done, if the technology had existed then.

OvaSciencea global fertility company dedicated to improving treatment options for women, has developed a new technology, AUGMENT, that may improve fertility success in many women, using a woman’s own biology. As you might tell from their name, they focus on egg health, and how to improve it, using the power found within a woman's own body. Egg health naturally declines with age, and can be impacted even in younger women due to a variety of medical conditions or environmental factors. If the viability of your eggs is an issue for you, AUGMENT is designed to boost your egg power, and could be the answer you need.

The basis of the AUGMENT treatment is the breakthrough discovery of egg precursor cells (EggPC), or stem cells – immature egg cells found inside the protective ovarian lining. These little gems are harvested, and their energy-producing mitochondria are collected, then introduced along with the sperm into your eggs to be fertilised. This process is designed to boost your eggs’ energy levels for optimal embryo development. So your own body is providing a helping hand.

The AUGMENT treatment is available in select IVF clinics around the world, excepting the United States. It is available in Canada at five clinics in the GTA, and one of those clinics actually produced the first baby born as a result of this enhanced IVF procedure, Zain Rajani. Zain's parents had been trying to conceive for four years (like us), and then turned to IUI and IVF (like us). They had one failed IVF cycle before trying AUGMENT. This video tells their story better than I can, and fellow Cityline viewers will recognise their doctor - Dr. Marjorie Dixon.

I think this is a very exciting treatment option and will be following along with interest to watch its spread. Of course, no fertility treatment currently available, including this one, can provide a guarantee of conception and a healthy baby at the end, but this is a promising development. Who knows where future technological advances and new scientific discoveries will lead us!

Oh! And for the end of our story - you all know our Boo. After our failed IVF procedure we took a break. Neither my body nor our psyches were in a healthy spot to try again right away. Seven months later we miraculously, surprisingly, conceived naturally. Five years after we began trying.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by OvaScience. All opinions on this blog, as always, remain my own.

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