01 May 2008

Step by Step Toward a Brave New World

Fertility Medicine is generating some interesting new techniques. A new technique for growing hundreds of eggs in a lab, while a woman undergoes cancer chemotherapy--or is exposed to other environmental hazards such as the radiation of outer space etc--offers promise for thousands of women who would otherwise be doomed to infertility. By taking sections or biopsies of ovaries, and freezing them for later use, a woman's fertility can survive separate from her body for years.

Another fertility tool is the Inovocell device, which is an interesting IVF tool to reduce the cost and inconvenience of the procedure:
The Invocell device is a sealed capsule that allows fertilisation to take place inside the body, in the vaginal cavity. A woman would first be given mild drugs to stimulate her ovaries, and then eggs would be removed from them while she is under sedation. Up to seven eggs are then put into the Invocell capsule, along with washed sperm. The capsule is then placed inside the vagina. After three days the patient would return for a second appointment, in which the capsule is removed and any fertilised embryos are examined for quality. The best one or two would then be transferred to the womb. __Times
That reminds me of another device which is a bit more invasive, the Anecova capsule:
The new device allows embryos created in the lab to be incubated inside a perforated silicon container inserted into a woman's own womb. After a few days, the capsule is recovered and some embryos are selected for implantation in the womb (see image, top right)

Embryos incubated in the lab must have their growth medium changed every few hours to provide new nutrients and get rid of waste. The new device provides a more natural environment.

The silicon capsule is about 5 millimetres long and less than a millimetre wide. Its walls are perforated with 360 holes, each around 40 microns across. After embryos have been loaded inside, the ends are sealed and the container is connected to a flexible wire that holds the device inside the uterus (see image, lower right). A thread trails through the cervix to allow it to be recovered later on. __NS
The two devices are quite different in practise, but both provide ways for embryos to be retrieved from the woman's body, tested, and the best ones selected for implantation in the uterus.

It is easy to see how such devices could be used in a fiction plot--or a criminal scam. One woman could be carrying another woman's eggs in an Invocell, get a man to unwittingly fertilise the eggs, then take the fertilised eggs to IVF for implantation into the uterus of the woman who produced the eggs. It is an open and shut court case of paternity. The wronged (but complicit) wife gets a lucrative divorce. The egg donor gets a hefty paternity judgment, even though the father has never slept with her. Moving along . . .

The final device--not yet developed--is the artificial womb that is capable of incubating the embryo through a normal gestation to delivery. Such a sophisticated device will require the solution of several technical problems.

H/T Futurepundit.com


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