Tag 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.

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

BPA and cancer: a direct link discovered

Composition with plastic bottles of mineral waterBisphenol A, or BPA, is a chemical that’s found in many of the products we use every day. It’s an endocrine disruptor, so it can interfere with the hormones in your body. It’s used to make many plastics and resins, and you’ll find it in food cans, water bottles, dental fillings, DVDs and CDs, cash register tape, and much more. Previous research has shown that BPA can- and does- leach into food products, but until now, there hasn’t been a direct link established between BPA and cancer. BPA has been linked to plenty of other health issues, though.

Now, new research from the University of Michigan shows a direct link between BPA exposure and liver cancer. Pregnant mice were fed a diet containing human-relevant amounts of BPA during their pregnancy and while they were nursing their pups. And the babies of these mice were much more likely to develop liver tumors than control mice- it seems that the developing pups weren’t able to rid their systems of the chemical as efficiently as adults.

What does this mean for you? Pay attention to food labels! Look for BPA-free products, limit the amount of food you eat from cans and plastic containers that contain BPA, and be especially careful when you’re pregnant and when you have children in the home. Diet and health fads may come and go, but as we learn more about BPA, the news only gets worse. Read about the study here:

http://www.ns.umich.edu/new/multimedia/videos/21951-liver-tumors-found-in-mice-exposed-to-bpa

Infertility and adenomyosis answers from a mouse!

iStock_000009922153XSmallAdenomyosis is a gynecological disease that can cause infertility and chronic pelvic pain. While there are some medications that can be used to alleviate symptoms, the only definitive treatment for the disease is a hysterectomy. But now, researchers at Michigan State University have created a mouse model that can help researchers understand processes in the disease’s development. This is significant, because most women with the disease require some type of surgery, and a treatment that allows a woman to avoid a hysterectomy would be ideal.

Until now, there hasn’t been a reliable animal model for this disease, and it will be interesting to see how the development of this new mouse model can help researchers discover a cure for adenomyosis. For women suffering with infertility issues due to the disease, this could be life-changing!

According to the CDC, infertility affects approximately 11% of women. That’s over 1 in 10 women that will experience some degree of infertility! There are many causes, and while some women receive a diagnosis (like adenomyosis), others may not. We still have a lot to learn about infertility, but rest assured, researchers are working hard to figure it out.

Read about it here:

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2013/researchers-close-in-on-cause-of-gynecological-disease/

http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/

A child is always in a mother’s heart!

baby feetThe bond between a mother and her child can be incredibly powerful. But research shows that it’s more than just emotional- a mother can carry a part of her child with her throughout her life!

During pregnancy, a mother provides her baby with warmth, safety, and essential nutrients. But it’s not all one-sided- the baby protects its mother, too! Through the blood exchange via the placenta, cells from the baby enter the mother’s bloodstream and can migrate through her body, ultimately settling in the heart, brain and other tissues.

This specific research study showed that these cells were less common in the brains of women who had Alzheimer’s disease. Earlier research has shown that fetal cells that remain in a mother’s tissues can help her fight off breast cancer, and research in mice showed that fetal cells literally helped heal a mother’s heart- when a pregnant mouse had a heart attack, fetal stem cells rushed to the area and began changing into new heart cells! That mother-child bond is stronger than you thought!

So if you’re a mom, regardless of where your child is, it might help you to know that a part of your child will always be in your heart- literally!

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientists-discover-childrens-cells-living-in-mothers-brain

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21185-fetus-donates-stem-cells-to-heal-mothers-heart.html#.UsY1g_RDuSp

Polar bear pregnancy test- from a beagle!

iStock_000002835475XSmallDogs giving pregnancy test results that rival over-the-counter accuracy? Yes! Keepers at the Cincinnati Zoo are working with a beagle named Elvis to determine polar bear pregnancy. Veterinarians found that ultrasound and progesterone monitoring are unreliable in determining pregnancy in these animals, so they turned to another option- and Elvis is pretty accurate!

Trained dogs are becoming more and more popular for medical applications. In addition to detecting the onset of seizures and variations in blood sugar levels, dogs have also been used to detect cancer- see an earlier post about dogs detecting ovarian cancer here: http://blog.sciencekicksass.com/ovarian-cancer-could-you-be-saved-by-a-dog/

Elvis is showing about 97% accuracy in determining pregnancy after sniffing fecal samples (pretty close to over-the-counter pregnancy tests for humans)! Earlier this year, his trainers were using samples from previously pregnant polar bears, so it will be interesting to see if Elvis’s predictions regarding this year’s potential moms are correct.

This is the first time that sniffer dogs are being used in biomedical research in wildlife species, and the applications are interesting- could sniffer dogs help researchers determine the reproductive health of other animals, both in captivity and in the wild? Read about it here:

http://aboutzoos.info/zoos/news-zoos/762-special-trained-beagle-can-sniff-out-polar-bear-pregnancy