Have you guys heard about this really interesting cutting edge infertility treatment called “AUGMENT”? I heard about it first a little over a year ago when it made the news as a “pioneering medical treatment offered in Toronto”. It’s used for women who are having trouble conceiving as it can ‘revitalize’ their own eggs. Meaning that if your eggs are too “tired” you wouldn’t necessarily need to resort to donor eggs.
Hold. The. Phone.
I was looking at the possibility of donor eggs myself at the time and so I was instantly intrigued. I googled and read something about supplementing the mitochondria in the egg cells which gives the eggs the boost they need to create viable embryos. SCIENCE IS COOL! And the technology is Canadian! Excuse me while I gloat.
And then something wicked happened. OvaScience, the company behind AUGMENT, reached out to me to see if I wanted to discuss the technology on the blog. Ummmm Yes! Yes, I do! This is some seriously amazing cutting edge stuff. It’s some impressive science, and we all know how much I dig science. So here’s my run down on AUGMENT: how it works and why I think it’s really incredible for women with egg related infertility. LIKE ME!
*While this is a sponsored post all opinions are my own and I promise I don’t pull any punches. Here are the facts and they fall as they may.*
- As women age their eggs become less viable. Yes, this we know, but it’s the how and the why that really matter in relation to this treatment. As you age, or if you have infertility caused by diminished ovarian health, your eggs become ‘old’. This really means that they have less efficient mitochondria in their cells with which to perform tasks. All cells in your body are powered by these little things called mitochondria which are kind of like the batteries that keep things running. These mitochondria become less efficient over time and so our eggs become a little sluggish. Which is a problem if you want them to make an embryo. See, the energy that is used to get an egg to change from an egg cell into a blastocyst after fertilization comes primarily from the mitochondria located in the egg. If the mitochondria don’t have enough energy in them at fertilization then the whole process sort of peters out before the fertilized egg is able to grow into a blastocyst and implant into the uterus. So, as eggs become older, with less efficient mitochondria, fertilization and embryo development become more difficult.
- That’s a bummer, but, since you are reading this post there’s obviously something we can do about that. Which literally boggles the mind! We can now rejuvenate “tired” or “old” egg cells to have mitochondria that is closer to that of a younger cell. See, it turns out that women are NOT actually born with all of the eggs they can ever produce. It is still early days researching how egg development actually happens, but we do know that baby girls are born with a LOT of the eggs that they will use in their lifetime, but there are also these precursor cells that are found in the lining of the ovaries that are capable of maturing into new eggs. They are tiny egg precursor cells! These interesting precursor cells are the key to this whole AUGMENT procedure. These precursor cells can be extracted and then we can suck their pristine, non-aged, mitochondria out! Since the mitochondria are your own there is no issue putting these ‘young’ mitochondria into the ‘old’ eggs to help with powering the process of forming an embryo! How’s that for crazy, amazing, science fiction type stuff! (If this sounds an awful lot like the procedures that allow for 3 parent babies in the UK, you are right, it is similar in that the egg is infused with younger mitochondria to power fertilization. It is different in that it is your own cells doing the heavy lifting and not a younger donors!)
- So, how does AUGMENT actually work? First, you undergo a biopsy to have a small amount or ovarian tissue harvested. The scientists will use that tissue to isolate your own egg precursor cells and will then extract mitochondria from them. Then AUGMENT is performed during the IVF process. It is done in conjunction with ICSI whereby they inject the chosen sperm along with the ‘young’ mitochondria into the cytoplasm of the egg. Once the sperm is in there the fertilization process starts and the egg accesses the extra energy provided by the additional ‘young’ mitochondria. If you’d like, there is even a video on this! This doesn’t mean that all the eggs will fertilize properly, just that running out of energy shouldn’t be the problem for any embryos that are developing. Which is really saying something for people dealing with egg related infertility! Imagine if your egg quality could be restored to that of a younger you!
- Whether AUGMENT is a viable option for infertility patients really depends on the reason for your infertility and the resources you have at your disposal to pursue treatment. If your infertility is related to age, egg quality, or poor embryo development then YES AUGMENT is a viable option that could seriously impact your chances of a successful IVF outcome. In studies looking at the effectiveness of this treatment there was an 11-18 fold increase over IVF success with the use of AUGMENT. To me that seems pretty damn good! Now the catch, this treatment doesn’t come cheap! And I mean that in relation to normal IVF, which is also not freaking cheap. I couldn’t actually find a specific cost for this procedure, as it varies by clinic, but I figure it must be like clothes shopping. If you can’t see a tag, and have to ask, it’s too expensive for you. While this procedure is seriously amazing and could offer hope to many infertile couples, as well as meaningfully extending the age at which women may be able to reproduce, that will only be possible if the price comes down. But, if it helps you reduce the number of IVF cycles you need, then it could make sense financially. I get it, new technology is pricey. The price tends to come down as more and more places can offer a product and it gets competitive. Its newness might be a drawback here.
- Newness is probably a factor in the limited availability of this treatment as well. It isn’t available in most countries, and those that do allow it have only seen it turn up in small pockets so far. There has also been an issue with acquiring licencing to use AUGMENT in several countries, including the USA. This is certainly something to consider if you are fortunate enough to have the means to pursue this treatment, you might need to factor in travel expenses to get you where the show is.
All in all though, I think that AUGMENT is really pretty amazing. The founder for the treatment discovered immature cells in ovaries that basically turned what we thought we knew about egg health on its head and has since been able to extract mitochondria from those cells to rejuvenate egg cells that have become of poor quality!! I mean, that’s amazing, right?! Maybe it’s the scientist in me talking but I think this is not only cutting edge but incredibly useful! This would give couples another shot at having biological children and not having to resort to donor eggs right away. Giving infertile people more options is an amazing thing.
Yes, there are problems that will need to be overcome if this treatment is going to be more widely available and affordable but keep your ear to the ground world! AUGMENT is here and I really can’t see a way back to a time before we knew these things were possible! Who would want to? Because, pardon me, AUGMENT is pretty epic.
*Want to read more scientific publications on AUGMENT technology than you thought were possible? Start -here- *