Four Radical New Fertility Treatments Years Away From Clinics | Medical research

The fertility watchdog is pushing for the biggest overhaul of fertility laws in 30 years and is discussing how to ‘evolve’ any new fertility law to ensure it can cope with the current and future radical scientific advances.

Here are four of the new reproductive treatments that scientists believe could be years away from the clinic.

Lab-grown eggs and sperm

Scientists are making significant progress in the ability to grow eggs and sperm in the lab. The ultimate goal is to take adult skin cells, turn them into “induced pluripotent stem cells” which have the ability to transform into other cell types, and then, using a cocktail of chemicals, to coax these cells along the developmental pathway to become eggs or sperm.

It may seem biologically improbable, but scientists have already achieved the feat in mice, producing healthy pups. In theory, a female skin cell could be used to produce a sperm and vice versa, which would be revolutionary.

Translating this work into human cells is not straightforward. There are still big scientific hurdles to overcome, and demonstrating safety would be a long process. But there is growing confidence that it will eventually be possible and there are already companies, such as US-based Conception, aiming to bring the latest advancements to the clinic.

Human genome editing

Genome editing is a method of making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism. Gene therapy, where new genes are added or faulty genes are turned off in specific cells, is already used in medicine to treat genetic diseases.

Modifying the DNA of an embryo goes one step further as the genetic changes would occur in every cell of the body, meaning the changes would be passed on to subsequent generations. The technique could allow people to avoid transmitting hereditary diseases.

However, in many cases, preimplantation embryo screening can achieve this goal and research has shown that gene editing tools risk producing ‘off-target’ changes. So there will be a very high bar to demonstrate that the technology is safe enough to be medically justified.

threesome baby ivf

The last major amendment to UK fertility law came in 2015 when MPs voted for an amendment allowing a technique called mitochondrial transfer, designed to eliminate certain incurable genetic diseases. The technique involves swapping the egg’s mitochondrial DNA (a tiny fraction of the total DNA, which is found outside the egg’s nucleus) with that of a healthy donor.

Currently, only two specific techniques are allowed, but many people would like to see the law relaxed so that new techniques with the same purpose can be allowed.

It is possible that in the future the technique could have wider applications, for example if defective mitochondria were identified as a cause of infertility.

Synthetic embryos

UK fertility laws regulate the use of embryos in research and impose a 14-day limit on how long embryos can grow in the laboratory. However, the HFEA has no jurisdiction over so-called synthetic embryos.

This month, two teams of scientists report creating these embryo-like structures, with a beating heart and primitive brain, from mouse cells. Synthetic embryos essentially look like “real” embryos but do not require an egg or sperm to be produced. The same scientists are trying to replicate the work in human cells, and some believe new legal guidelines are needed.

On the other hand, many scientists would like to see the “14 day rule” relaxed to allow them to better understand human development, including why many pregnancies fail at an early stage.