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IVF in the next 30 years

Last July 25, Louise Brown, turned 30. The day was marked as a major milestone in science and medicine. You see, Louise is the first test tube baby ? the first ever person born through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Assisted reproduction technology (ART) has come a long way since 1978. Women of menopausal age can now carry and deliver babies. Surrogate mothers or ?wombs for rent? enables women who have undergone hysterectomy to have biological offsprings. Preimplantation genetic diagnostic screening enables parents to screen their embryos for genetic diseases and gender. In April this year, the first ?man? became pregnant and delivered a daughter. So one may ask, where do we go from here?

The 17 July issue of Nature published a special report on ?Making babies: the next 30 years? and interviewed several reproductive medicine experts on what we can expect in the next 30 years. Some of the replies are given below:

  • Low-budget IVF – Currently, an IVF cycle can cost thousands of dollars. For the lucky few, it can even be covered by health insurance. There are, however, many countries in this world where IVF is inaccessible financially. By streamlining the procedure and using low-cost drugs, IVF might soon be available to almost anybody.
  • Gametes from skin cells – Last year, pluripotent stem cells have been developed from ordinary human skin cells [2]. Research is now being stepped on on the development of gametes from stem cells [3], mainly because of the scarcity of egg donors as well as the legal restrictions associated with egg donations [4]. If this happens within the next 30 years, anybody ? and I mean anybody can have biological offsprings ? and infertility will be a thing of the past.
  • Genetic banking – This is the storage of young, healthy cells of people before they start aging and accumulate genetic errors. These cells can be used as ?genetic cassettes? that can be used to correct aging-related errors.
  • Artificial wombs – Some researchers are working at the other end of the process ? at delivery. In recent years, premature infants born as early as the 22nd week of gestation period have been known to survive. The idea of an artificial uterus to carry an embryo to full term is not so far-fetched but can have a lot of ethical and legal implications.
  • Cloned babies – According to one expert, reproductive cloning is not that far away although there is no need for it medically.

Louise Brown was a great milestone in science. So was Dolly. I think we can expect great things from reproductive medicine in the coming 3 decades. Maybe even terrible things. But great.

References

  1. Nature 454, 260-262 (17 July 2008)
  2. Science 318, 1917 – 192021 December 2007
  3. Nature 452, 913 (24 April 2008)
  4. Nature 453, 828-829 (2008)

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