IVF successes break new reproductive ground

Despite IVF being used for thirty years, fertility treatments are still breaking new ground to assist couples struggling to conceive children – in multiples. Recently the first US babies conceived using frozen eggs were born in Minnesota and now quadruplets have been born in California to two mothers within a same-sex partnership.

After two unsuccessful IVF cycles and a miscarriage, Ceresa and Jonathan Caudill succeeded in having the first babies in Minnesota to be born from frozen eggs rather than embryos. In California, partners Karen Wesolowski, 42, and Martha Padgett, 38, underwent fertility treatments for between three and four years, spending roughly £35,000 on five cycles of IVF, before having the first reported quadruplets to ever be born two mothers when they each had twins using IVF embryos created from Padgett’s eggs and a sperm donor.

The egg-freezing technology which successfully led to the birth of the Caudill’s twin daughters is an imperfect science. The egg is the body’s largest cell and, unlike sperm and embryos, is predominantly composed of water which crystallises during the freezing process and can damage it. Experts hope that, once reliable, the technique could significantly help women to control their reproductive destinies. Researchers posture that the technology could impact reproductive choice in much the same way that the birth control pill did forty years ago. ‘For women who are sure they are going to go through menopause from cancer treatments, or for women in their mid-30s who don’t see a partner on the horizon, there really aren’t other options’, said Dr. Elizabeth Ginsberg, president-elect of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) and a fertility doctor in Boston.
According to Dr. Charles Coddington who heads the Mayo fertility clinic in Rochester, many couples like the Caudills do not wish to create more embryos than are required for implantation because they are uncomfortable with concept of unused leftover embryos. The Caudills used the remaining eggs, which had been frozen for research purposes, as a last resort.

The Mayo Clinic now offers egg-freezing to women, including those who wish to delay pregnancy, for double the price of frozen-embryo storage – at roughly £500 – and makes it clear that the success rates is much lower to conceive children using this method. Only half of frozen eggs survive the thawing process. Then 10-15 per cent of those thawed eggs successfully lead to live births where as frozen embryos have a 50 per cent chance of leading to a live birth at the clinic. They use a technique that removes much of the water in the eggs before slowly freezing them and later thaw them slowly returning the water to the eggs for re-absorption.

The California couple had attempted every possible IVF combination, using both of their eggs, and was ‘exhausted’. After five unsuccessful attempts they were just trying to hedge their bets to successfully have a single child but were delighted to learn that they were each pregnant and that they were both having twins. The two sets of twins were surprisingly born only 22 hours apart. The couple is ‘thrilled, knowing they’re all related and can help each other through life’.

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