Reproductive technologies help solve problems of infertility

There are many reasons why a man and woman may not be able to have children. The man's rate of sperm production may be low, or his sperm may lack motility. The mucus in the woman's reproductive tract may be thick and not conducive to sperm reaching the oviducts. Structural problems may also exist, such as blockage of the oviducts by scar tissue or by endometriosis, a proliferation of endometrial cells outside of the uterus. In some cases, treatment with powerful chemicals to cure cancer damages the ability of the go-nads to produce gametes.

Even a couple who are fully fertile and who want children may not want to take the risk of the natural process of fertilization if one or both parents are carriers of a genetic disease. A number of reproductive technologies have been developed to overcome these and other barriers to childbearing.

The oldest and simplest reproductive technology is artificial insemination, which involves placing sperm in the appropriate part of the female's reproductive tract. This technique is useful if the male's sperm count is low, if his sperm lack motility, or if problems in the female's reproductive tract prevent the normal movement of sperm up to and through the oviducts. Artificial insemination is used widely in the production of domesticated animals such as cattle.

More recent advances, called assisted reproductive technologies, or ARTs, involve procedures that remove unfertilized eggs from the ovary, combine them with sperm outside the body, and then place fertilized eggs or egg-sperm mixtures in the appropriate location in the female's reproductive tract for development to take place.

The first successful ART was in vitro fertilization (IVF). In IVF, the mother is treated with hormones that stimulate many follicles in her ovaries to mature. Eggs are collected from these follicles, and sperm are collected from the father. Eggs and sperm are combined in a culture medium outside the body (in vitro, "in glass"), where fertilization takes place. The resulting embryos can be injected into the mother's uterus in the blastocyst stage or kept frozen for implantation later. The first "test-tube baby" resulting from IVF was born in 1978. Since that time, thousands of babies have been produced by this ART. IVF is useful when the woman's oviducts are blocked, but it has a success rate of only 20 to 25 percent.

A technique called gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) can be used when only the entrance to the oviducts from the ovaries, or the upper segment of the oviducts, is blocked. In this procedure, eggs and sperm are collected and injected directly into the upper regions of the oviducts, where fertilization normally takes place. Then the blastocyst enters the uterus via the normal route. GIFT has a success rate of about 30 percent.

A major cause of failure of IVF and GIFT is failure of sperm to gain access to the egg plasma membrane (see Fig ure 43.5). To solve this problem, methods have been developed to inject a sperm cell directly into the cytoplasm of an egg. In intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an egg is held in place by suction applied to a polished glass pipette. A slender, sharp pipette is then used to penetrate the egg and inject a sperm (Figure 43.17). This ART was used successfully for the first time in 1992; now thousands of these procedures are performed in U.S. clinics each year, with a success rate of about 25 percent.

IVF, coupled with sensitive techniques of genetic analysis, can eliminate the risk that adults who are carriers of genetic diseases will produce affected children. As we saw in Chapter 20, it is possible to take a cell from a blastocyst at the 4- or 8-cell stage without damaging its developmental potential. The sampled cell can be subjected to molecular analysis to determine whether it carries the harmful gene. This procedure, called preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, makes

100 Pregnancy Tips

100 Pregnancy Tips

Prior to planning pregnancy, you should learn more about the things involved in getting pregnant. It involves carrying a baby inside you for nine months, caring for a child for a number of years, and many more. Consider these things, so that you can properly assess if you are ready for pregnancy. Get all these very important tips about pregnancy that you need to know.

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