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Now & Next: How science is changing the nature of families

Posted on 15 January 2020

Advancements in technology have meant that the total number of fertility clinics worldwide are estimated to have increased by 70% over the last ten years.  People are increasingly turning to surrogacy and IVF to start their families later in life. But how will regulation keep up?

Science is changing how and when families are made.

Women are going to be able to have both career and family in a way that we’ve never seen before.

New technologies are transforming IFV success rates.

AI allows us to look at features of the embryo invisible to the human eye.

And families are growing up.

Dawn Hallett

I tell them, “No, I’m not the grandmother, I’m the mother” and they go, “You’re the mother!”

NOW&NEXT

The Family Way

My name is Dawn Hallett, I’m 65 years old and I’m the mother of Audree Evelyn Anne Hallett.  Audree is one year old. 

Dawn and her husband, Mike, who is 66 are proud first-time parents in Nova Scotia, Canada.  They married in 1977 and tried for a baby for decades.

When we were in our early 30s we discussed about having a family and then we went for testing and we found out that our chances were very slim and…

Mike Hallett

10 percent.

Dawn Hallett

10 percent chance that we could have a child of our own.

Attempts to conceive naturally and to adopt failed.  So, five years ago, Dawn turned to IVF and donor eggs for help.

Dawn Hallett

I went to our local clinic and they said I was too old, that they wouldn’t work with us.

In Canada, as in America, industry guidelines discourage embryo transfers to women over 55 who face a higher risk of prenatal health conditions including pre-eclampsia, hypertension and diabetes.  Dawn considered surrogacy.  She looked abroad to developing countries with less restrictive guidelines and legislation.

Dawn Hallett

The first place we went to, India, our surrogate was sitting in her doctor’s office and India closed their doors to international surrogacy.  We flew to Mexico City and we tried three times there with a surrogate and my husband, and she failed three times.

International fertility consultant, Crystal Travis, directed the couple towards Georgia…

Crystal Travis

Dawn, how is motherhood?

…one of the world’s least regulated fertility markets and one of the few countries that allows surrogates and donors of eggs and embryos to be paid.

Dawn Hallett

I felt that I was healthy enough that I could carry a baby if needed to because I exercised my whole life.

After medical tests, Dawn had an embryo made with a donor egg and donor sperm implanted.

Dawn Hallett

I said to Mike, I said, “I just don’t believe that it’s going to work.”  Anyway, so on the 23rd December when we got to…

Mike Hallett

On the 23rd December when we… I went over to the drugstore and got the, got the actual…

Dawn Hallett

…the pregnancy test, yes.

Mike Hallett

I’m the technical guy, so I did the dipping and basically I came down and said “By the way, you’re two to three weeks pregnant.”.

Dawn Hallett

Yeah.

Mike Hallett

And at that point we were just like…

Dawn Hallett

Yeah!

Mike Hallett

Okay, because you don’t know like, after you’ve…

Dawn Hallett

I was shocked, I was shocked

Mike Hallett

Totally shocked.  You know, this is a miracle.

The total number of fertility clinics around the world is estimated to have increased by almost 70% in the last ten years.  The value of the global fertility industry is predicted to rise from $25 billion today, to $41 billion by 2026.  Many believe there needs to be more regulation of an increasingly globalised IVF trade, including Dr Danielle Lane, a fertility specialist based in San Francisco.

Dr Danielle Lane, Lane Fertility Institute

I think that the risks far outweigh the benefits of being pregnant at 65.  We do not do embryo transfers on anyone who is above the age of 50.

However, Dr Lane is using new technology that will allow more women to have children later in life.

Dr Danielle Lane

We are definitely seeing an increase in egg freezing.  So, clearly the trend is that women are delaying their childbearing.

In 2017, the number of women freezing their own eggs in America jumped by nearly a quarter in one year alone.  Dr Lane believes this will help some women balance their careers and families more effectively in the future.

Dr Danielle Lane

Now we’re saying you can have that child at 40 using your 28 year old eggs so maybe it matters that you spend those extra ten years focussed on your career and get to a point where you feel comfortable having that baby at 40.

There is another technological development that might accelerate this trend towards older parents.  Today, Dr Michelle Perugini is unveiling a new artificial-intelligence application at the Lane Fertility Institute.

Dr Michelle Perugini, Do-founder Life Whisperer

Embryo assessment is currently done by an embryologist sitting in front a microscope.  What we do is take microscope images, directly drag and drop them onto our system and the AI runs over those images and produces an instantaneous confidence score.

The application is designed to improve the chances of selecting embryos that will lead to successful pregnancies.

Dr Michelle Perugini

Our data show that we’re 30% more accurate in terms of being able to predict the pregnancy outcome.

Dr Danielle Lane

That’s really amazing.

This application is awaiting regulatory approval in America.  If it delivers on its promise, it could help make IVF more accessible.

Dr Danielle Lane

Is there a way that the application of this AI will actually make IVF more affordable?

Dr Michelle Perugini

If we can get patients pregnant quicker or in fewer cycles by virtue of picking the best embryo then it will be cheaper overall.

As the science grows, so will the opportunities for more would-be parents to start families later than ever before.

Dr Danielle Lane

There will always be decisions to be made about career and family but the ability to plan them out is so much better now than it was even a decade ago.

NOW&NEXT

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