Research Suggests a Way to Extend Female Fertility

New research in Britain has the scientific community buzzing over the possibility of extending a woman's fertility with a simple pill or shot.

Fertility researchers in Britain are looking at a protein already found in women's eggs that could be used to keep them viable indefinitely. They are trying to determine whether there is a way to manufacture the protein in a pill or injectable form.

While the treatment isn't a reality, the idea may represent hope for thousands of women looking to conceive later in life.

This morning on "Good Morning America," Dr. Mona Khanna, a Dallas internist, discussed what it may mean for women. She said currently the idea is just a theory and needs more research and development.

"It was first presented at the British science festival," Khanna said. "A researcher is saying we have proteins that help preserve our eggs."

Khanna said the treatment would attempt to harness the protein in a way that would keep women's eggs from dying off and keep remaining eggs healthy.

"The problem is twofold," Khanna said. "First, eggs drop in number dramatically."

A woman is born with 1 million eggs and by puberty she has less than half a million, Khanna said. The eggs remaining after puberty age fairly rapidly, she added.

"Plus, as the eggs age, they're less able to function," Khanna said.

Eggs die every day, and by the time a woman is 45 years old she probably has none left, Khanna said. At menopause a woman has no eggs, she said.

The British researchers are talking about "preserving eggs indefinitely," Khanna said.

Current Fertility Treatments

Women with fertility concerns currently have several options. These include simple stress reduction, egg washing, egg donors and in-vitro fertilization, Khanna said.

A woman's best option today is in-vitro fertilization, and women under 35 years old have a 50 percent success rate with in-vitro, Khanna said.

"If you're younger and know you will be delaying childbearing, think about freezing eggs or embryos," Khanna said. "The younger the better, but certainly no later than 35. After 35, it is very difficult to conceive."

Khanna said there also are simple noninvasive things a woman can do to increase her fertility, including giving up smoking and reducing stress levels..

If those aren't working, she suggests seeing a fertility specialist. About 40 percent of infertility is a problem on the male side and that can be looked at as well, she added.

Khanna said the costs for existing treatments are dropping because of increasing demand. Twelve states mandate insurance to cover infertility treatments, she said.

There is also a newer treatment called nuclear transfer in which a woman could transfer the nucleus from a younger woman's eggs into her own to make it healthier and therefore more likely to be fertilized, Khanna said.

This process is still in the research phase.