Category Archives: Pregnancy

Infertility hope: Uterus transplant results in a healthy baby boy

pixabay baby holding dad's fingerInfertility is a heartbreaking problem that many women and couples face. There’s nothing worse than wanting a baby and being told that it will never happen, or being given the “one in a million” speech. And while there have been many advances in medicine that have helped women overcome the diagnosis of “infertility,” recent news of womb transplant success gives us a new reason to be optimistic!

For women who were born without a uterus (this affects about 1 in 5000 women worldwide) or have lost theirs to cancer, becoming pregnant doesn’t even seem like an option. But in September, all that changed when baby Vincent was born. Vincent’s mother was one of nine patients who had undergone a uterine transplant over the last two years in this particular study. Out of those nine patients, Vincent’s mom was the first to deliver her baby, and six others are currently pregnant.

While several countries may now start their own womb transplant programs, this is unlikely to become a commonplace technique, as it is expensive and risky. Patients must remain on anti-rejection medication to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted uterus. After birth, the uterus would need be removed to prevent long-term health effects from anti-rejection drugs. But it’s still an incredible advance, and women who had no hope of becoming pregnant may now have a chance.

None of this would have been possible without dedicated researchers worldwide and the animal models that have contributed to the understanding and application of this science. Surgical techniques and anti-rejection drugs have progressed to the point of actually allowing a woman without a uterus to undergo a successful transplant and give birth to healthy baby- and that’s amazing! Read more about it here.

Premature infants and the benefits of massage

iStock_000013183519LargeThe health of premature infants has been helped considerably by researchers who have been working on a study in rats that started in 1979. The research shows that the health conditions of premature infants can be improved significantly by introducing certain massage techniques.

Using these stimulation techniques, it’s been found that premature infants have been able to be released from the ICU an average of six days earlier than when these techniques weren’t used. Not only is this beneficial for infant health, it’s also a significant cost savings for insurance companies- a win-win for everyone.

Interestingly enough, when the research study started, the original questions that were being asked had nothing to do with premature infants. Instead, researchers were trying to determine how applying moderate pressure to rats could affect a particular brain growth enzyme. Later, it was found that this stimulation also improved brain growth in premature infants. This isn’t the first time that research studies have led to results that led scientists in a different direction. Read about more research with unexpected results here- including Viagra and new medication to improve recovery after heart attacks.

This research has earned a Golden Goose Award, which will be awarded near the end of September 2014. This is a great recognition- and also a reminder that the support of basic research is extremely important! Who knows where it could lead next?

Read more about it here: http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2014/09/11/golden-goose-award-presented-duke-researchers-rat-study

Vasectomies: the next generation (or not…)

iStock_000018769253SmallFor men who don’t want to commit to a surgical vasectomy, a new option may soon be available. It’s called Vasalgel, and this “no-scalpel vasectomy” could be the next generation of men’s birth control by effectively eliminating the creation of… yes, the next generation.

Traditional vasectomies involve cutting the vas deferens in a brief surgical procedure. Vasalgel is just what is sounds like: a gel. The non-hormonal gel is injected into the vas deferens, where it stays in place and tears apart sperm as they pass through. It’s likely to be more easily reversed than a traditional vasectomy, as the reversal would involve flushing the gel out of the vas deferens with a separate injection.

Researchers are still working on this gel, and it’s been successfully tested in rabbits and is currently being tested in male baboons. Results are promising, as none of the baboons has successfully impregnated any females. Researchers estimate that this gel should last for at least 10 years in humans before needing to be re-injected. Read more about it here:

http://www.wpxi.com/news/news/health-med-fit-science/gel-injection-could-be-vasectomy-alternative/nhKWH/

Remote-controlled sex just took on a whole new meaning

Sharing remote controlRemote controls and sex go together, like, well… remote controls and sex. What did you think this article was about?? Get your mind out of the gutter, we’re talking about science here!

That being said, sometimes science is a little risqué. And we love it that way! Take this new research, which definitely thinks outside the box. And as an added bonus, this science will likely improve the sex lives of a LOT of people.

Researchers are testing a remote-controlled birth control implant. This implant can last up to 16 years, and can be turned on and off with (you guessed it) a remote control. When the device is on, an electric charge melts the seal on the hormone reservoir, releasing the daily dose of levonorgestrel into the body. If the patient want to try to conceive, they simply turn the device off with their remote.

This would be a great long-term option for birth control because it would eliminate the potential for error that is common with current methods. It could also make a big difference in countries where birth control options are limited.

The implant has been tested in humans to deliver daily osteoporosis medication, and animal trials are underway for the hormone-delivering version. The goal is to have the device available by 2018. What do you think? Would you bring this particular remote control into YOUR sex life?

http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-28193720

Pregnancy, calories, and consequences

iStock_000014779137SmallNew research stresses the importance of a pregnant woman’s diet, and shows the possible consequences for her offspring. Through mouse studies, it was found that inadequate caloric intake in later stages of pregnancy can cause changes to occur in the sperm of her male offspring.

Epigenetic programming of the offspring’s sperm cells happens later in pregnancy, and when researchers cut caloric intake in half during this time, they found over 100 regions on the sperm that were developed differently than control mice.

In this type of research, animals were really important. In a controlled environment, researchers are able to make all conditions stable and only have one variable (caloric restriction in the last week of the mother’s gestation). This provides very solid evidence, because in humans, there are so many other variables that it would be difficult to determine the impact of the mother’s diet alone on the offspring. We know that the actions of both parents will contribute to the health of the children- there is evidence that a man’s health status can influence the health of his sperm, and in turn, can have consequences on offspring. This type of research wouldn’t have been possible in humans due to the number of variables involved, and it helped increase understanding of intergenerational gene transmission.

Why is this research important? Evidence that a mother’s actions will directly influence the outcome of her children will hopefully prompt more support for pregnant women in areas of the world where food availability is a problem. It also may provide more incentive for women to reconsider food choices during pregnancy. If restricting calories causes these problems, it’s likely that unhealthy eating could also be causing more issues that mothers might realize. Read more about it here:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/40465/title/Gestational-Malnutrition-Affects-Offspring-s-Sperm/

Pregnant women and narcotics- not a good combination

Pregnant woman with tabletsPregnant women learn pretty quickly that there are long lists of things they’re not supposed to do. Smoking cigarettes, eating sushi, drinking alcohol, and skydiving are out- but why are so many pregnant women taking narcotics?

From 2007 to 2011, each year, over 12% of pregnant women were prescribed opioid painkillers. And unfortunately, the effects on the developing fetus aren’t understood very well. Studies in animals are critical to the understanding of the effects of certain drugs on fetuses, and hopefully, it’s not too late. It is known that the chances of neural tube defects are increased if opioids are used during early pregnancy, and addiction in newborns is a potential problem when opioids are using during late pregnancy.

Regardless, a large number of doctors are commonly prescribing opioids to their pregnant patients. There are always cases where the benefits of medications outweigh the potential risks, but expecting moms should always make sure they’re looking out for their little ones! Before taking medications during pregnancy- especially medications with unknown risks to unborn children- talk to your doctor and do some research for yourself. Definitely stay away from skydiving, but also know that narcotics could be much more dangerous than you might think!

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/15/science/surge-in-prescriptions-for-opioid-painkillers-for-pregnant-women.html?rref=science&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Science&pgtype=article&_r=0

Hope for preemies- amazing new lung research!

kate evelyn pontiusPremature babies often have lasting lung problems, but hopefully that won’t always be the case. Researchers are working on bigger and better treatments- and there’s some good news!

Currently, mothers of premature babies often receive steroid injections before delivery to help the baby’s lungs develop. After the baby’s birth, surfactant can also be administered to coat the lungs and facilitate oxygen exchange. And while these treatments have saved the lives of many babies and are incredible medical advances, researchers are working on bigger and better ideas.

By using stems cells and regenerative medicine, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario are developing techniques that could safely repair damaged lungs of premature infants! They’re using stem cells that make blood vessels, and in addition to providing hope to parents of preemies, this could also potentially help in the treatment of chronic lung diseases in adults. Research in animals has shown promising results, and clinical trials could start in just a few years. Read more about it here:

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/Ottawa+pediatrician+research+could+transform+outlook+premature+babies/9738332/story.html

Training your sperm for the Olympics

Sperm Swimming PerspectiveAnyone facing infertility issues knows that when it comes to sperm, there’s a big difference between Olympic swimmers and those that will never leave the kiddie pool. But what makes those swimmers go the extra mile?

Researchers have found that it’s all about hydrodynamics. Just as professional swimmers wear swim caps and take extra steps to cruise through the water more efficiently (body waxing, anyone?), sperm with sleeker ‘swim caps’ are faster swimmers.

And it’s all in the genes. In looking at promiscuous mice, researchers found that the ratio between two specific genes is important to hydrodynamics. This is important because if these findings are similar in humans, couples facing infertility issues might have an advantage in knowing which of those swimmers (based on gene expression) are most likely to win the gold medal, so to speak. Who knows- it might be possible to alter gene expression to speed up swimmers that would otherwise need a life jacket! Read more here:

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/04/scienceshot-how-make-speedy-sperm

A new way to make babies… forget the birds and the bees!

iStock_000011577284SmallYou know about the birds and the bees… but this is a whole new conversation. New research gives a new meaning to the term “three-way”! The FDA is considering the approval of in-vitro fertilization techniques that could give a child not two- but three- parents.

For women with mitochondrial defects, this could allow them to have children while preventing disease. A woman with mitochondrial defects could have the nuclear DNA removed from one of her eggs, and put into a donor egg from a woman with normal mitochondrial DNA. Studies involving oocyte modification with animals and human embryos have shown that it’s possible, and as mitochondrial diseases occur in 1 in 5,000 births, this could be a big step forward.

There are other points of view, though- some argue that offspring would need to be carefully followed to determine potential health effects of this procedure, and others question whether or not it’s ethical.

It’s a lot to think about. What do you think? Would you support this, or argue against it? What information do you need to make a decision about it? Let me know what you think. Read more here and here.

Peeing on a stick just became awesome

iStock_000006931163SmallIf you’ve peed on a stick, you’re either a woman who has tried to determine your ovulation or pregnancy status, or a significant other who wanted to know what would happen if YOU peed on the stick. Either way, if you’ve done it, you know that it is NOT awesome. No matter how hard you try, it’s just about impossible to pee on that damn absorbent tip without peeing all over your hand. Seriously- NOT awesome.

But that’s about to change. Researchers have developed a test that could detect cancer- and it’s as easy as peeing on a stick. Tumor proteins are harder to detect than pregnancy hormones, so here’s how it works: a patient would get an injection of a biomarker that would interact with tumor cells. Cancer cells produce specific kinds of proteins that alter the biomarker, and that interaction is detected when the patient pees on a stick. The whole process takes about an hour.

If you don’t think that’s awesome, read the last paragraph again. This test has been successful in animal studies, and could be a useful diagnostic tool that doesn’t require expensive equipment or trained personnel to perform it.

Read more here:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25110-cancer-diagnosis-as-simple-as-a-pregnancy-test.html#.UxKqjvldWSp