The world’s first baby conceived with a breakthrough, though somewhat controversial, fertility treatment was born last month in Toronto, Canada. Called Augment, the technique is said to enhance in vitro fertilization by supplementing the eggs of the mother-to-be with mitochondria derived from her own cells. The first wave of babies whose parents received this treatment are expected to pop out this summer.
Zain Rajani was born to Natasha and Omar Rajani on April 13. The couple had been trying to have a baby for four years. With her first IVF attempt, only four out of 15 eggs were fertilized—and just one matured enough to be transferred, TIME reports. After undergoing Augment last year, she produced four embryos: Two were frozen and one became Zain. You can meet the family in this video.
“You expect to see compromised egg health as women age, but many younger women also have poor egg health for various reasons. I was surprised to discover that the mother’s eggs and embryo quality were so poor, despite her 34 years of age,” University of Toronto’s Marjorie Dixon, and Rajani’s reproductive endocrinologist, says in a news release. “Based on my assessment of significantly diminished embryo quality in a failed IVF cycle and several other factors contributing to her infertility, she had few options.”
Immature egg cells can be found in the lining of the ovaries. And from these so-called egg precursor cells, scientists can isolate mitochondria, our energy producing organelles. These are then used to supplement or even replace the existing mitochondria in the eggs of women undergoing IVF. By increasing the energy levels of the eggs for embryo development, there's a greater chance that IVF will be successful, according to Augment developer OvaScience of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“The technique addresses a void now in IVF,” according to Northeastern University’s Jonathan Tilly, who made the discovery that cells taken from the surface of ovarian tissue contain egg precursors. “No cell culture can circumvent poor egg quality or an egg that is simply too tired to execute what it is capable of doing,” he tells TIME.
The first (and only) clinic in North America to offer Augment was TCART Fertility Partners in Toronto. “Think of a flashlight on a shelf for 35 years... You don’t really expect it to work because the battery is run down,” the clinic’s Robert Casper tells the Toronto Star. “We are putting fresh, young healthy batteries back into these eggs.”
The treatment is not available in the U.S., where gene therapy is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The agency is requesting more studies on the effects of adding mitochondria to eggs, and no formal clinical trials have yet been conducted. Elsewhere in four other countries, a few dozen women have tried Augment, TIME reports. Eight are currently pregnant.