Zain Rajani was born four weeks ago to parents Natasha and Omar, who had spent the better part of four years trying for a pregnancy. Their efforts failed because Natasha’s eggs were considered poor quality.
Her fertility specialist, Dr. Marjorie Dixon, of First Steps Fertility, suggested a new IVF treatment that involves using a mother’s immature egg cells, found in the protective lining of the ovaries, to give an energy boost to existing eggs.
“The unique thing about eggs is that they sit in the ovaries from the time of birth. So when someone is 35 years old, their eggs are 35 years old,” said Casper, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Toronto and a senior investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.
“Think of a flashlight on a shelf for 35 years … You don’t really expect it to work because they batter is run down,” said Casper, who has been researching mitochondria in his lab for 15 years. “We are putting fresh, young healthy batteries back into these eggs.”
During the outpatient procedure, a biopsy obtains a sample of a woman’s ovarian tissue, which is processed to isolate the mitochondria. This mitochondria is then combined with sperm and added to the egg.
Since last August, 30 women under the age of 40 have undergone the procedure at his clinic. About 25 of them got to the stage of embryo transfer. Of those, 15 got pregnant but six had miscarriages. Casper noted that number of miscarriages is normal for women in that age bracket.
Zain is the first of those babies to be born.
The treatment, which costs $ 23,500 on top of an $ 8,000 IVF cycle, is now available in Turkey and Dubai as well and will soon be available in London. It is not available in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration has not yet given it regulatory approval.
Candidates for the treatment should have gone through at least one IVF cycle.
Casper said treatment could be used for mothers over the age of 40, but not on chromosomally abnormal eggs.
Omar, 39, said he likes the fact that the procedure used Natasha’s own cells rather than donor cells.
“I think this is a bit of a hot topic,” he said in reference to the controversial “three-parent baby” IVF procedure recently approved in Britain. That mitochondrial transfer procedure uses the DNA from a father, a mother, and a second female donor to prevent mothers from passing certain genetic disorders to their children.
“Whatever was used in this pregnancy was all from Natasha and me. There was nothing artificial about it. There was no introduction of third donor or anything like that,” said Omar, a marketing executive.