Turning Back The Biological Clock

Women’s fertility declines with age, but a biotech company says it has a way to change that

Could this be possible at any age?

San Luis Obispo County California

Women who wait to have children can sometimes feel like they're racing against their own biological clocks. Even though some reports of declining fertility after a woman's mid-20s may be overblown, it does become much harder for a woman to have a baby past the age of 35. Now a fertility treatment from biotech company OvaScience may change all that, making it much easier for a woman to have a baby well into her 40s, as the Daily Beast reports.

Over the past 20 years, thousands of women who have struggled to get pregnant have turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF), a procedure in which doctors collect eggs and sperm from the potential parents, fertilize the eggs in the lab, then implant several embryos into the woman's uterus. But most women undergoing IVF have only a 20 to 35 percent success rate--the eggs or sperm may not be high enough quality, or the embryos may not implant in the uterine lining. The procedures are expensive and, if they don't succeed, are often emotionally wearing for the parents.

OvaPrime, the treatment created by scientists at OvaScience, would intervene with a woman's fertility long before an egg has matured. For decades scientists thought that a woman was born with all the eggs she would ever have, but in 2004, researchers discovered egg precursor cells--stem cells in the ovaries that become fertile eggs--in mice. The OvaPrime treatment removes a woman's egg precursor cells and places them in a different part of the ovary in which they can mature into healthy cells. And since stem cells are the youngest cells in the body, the Daily Beast article notes, they haven't been damaged by the biological changes that can cause eggs develop mutations and become less healthy. Doctors can then remove those healthy eggs and perform a typical IVF procedure, theoretically yielding a higher success rate.

Of course, OvaPrime couldn’t enable a woman to have a child indefinitely--after menopause, a woman’s body stops producing eggs, so theoretically either the egg precursor cells or the way they mature would be disrupted and the treatment wouldn’t work. And since OvaPrime hasn’t become commercially available yet, there aren’t any numbers comparing its success rate to typical IVF. But if OvaPrime does live up to its potential, it could enable women to have children well into their 40s or even 50s.

Correction (9/15/2015, 06:10 p.m. ET): The original sub-headline stated that OvaPrime wouldn't need IVF. However, the OvaPrime treatment does also require IVF, as stated in the rest of the story. Our bad!