The Future of Fertility
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because these are matters of life and death.
By Nancy King
The science of fertility is constantly changing. This series shares the advancements and discoveries by leading researchers across the globe who are looking into the reasons behind infertility and why pregnancies fail, and what can be done about it.
OZY peers into the Future of Fertility to bring you the latest findings from the labs, clinics and minds of fertility scientists leading the charge, while also considering the effect U.S. congressional actions could have on the work of these scientists and other fertility advocates.
Developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz is on a quest to understand the earliest stages of human development, a period when many pregnancies fail. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz and a team of researchers at Cambridge University are coaxing stem cells to organize into structures that resemble embryos — so they can control and query the cascade of chemical cues that guide development. They’ve also developed a system that allows them to keep human embryos alive for nearly two weeks longer than anyone has done before, a feat hailed by the journal Science as the “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2016.
One hundred seventy-six million: That’s the number of women thought to suffer from endometriosis — a condition that can cause excruciating pelvic pain during menstruation and sex and even lead to infertility. After seeing a doctor, women on average wait as long as a decade before a conclusive diagnosis is made — through expensive laparoscopic surgery. But help is on the horizon: Later this year, DotLab, the company founded by Heather Bowerman, is planning to release the first noninvasive test for endometriosis, with results available in two weeks or less.
The battles lines in Washington, D.C., are being drawn: On one side are fertility doctors, scientists and advocates; on the other, those fighting to curtail their work. And the parties pushing back on fertility science appear to have growing political support, including from the Trump administration. With bills seeking to give human rights to embryos proposed at the state and federal level each year, what’s to become of fertility science and promising new treatments?
Infertility has long been considered a women’s health issue, but in 50 percent of cases, male fertility is the root of the problem. Trouble is, not many experts study male fertility. Sarah Martins da Silva, an OB-GYN and a lecturer at the University of Dundee School of Medicine in Scotland, is one of the few who does. The average sperm count for men in Western countries has been dropping precipitously — by more than 50 percent between 1981 and 2013 — leaving experts baffled as to why. Martins da Silva and her team are testing thousands of drug compounds trying to find a way to help sperm swim better, and they’ve already identified two that show promise.
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- Nancy King, OZY AuthorContact Nancy King