For many years, it has been believed that once you reach your menopause, you can no longer have children. A clinic in Greece may have invented a treatment which could allow older women to conceive.

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By Hayley Fryer

I’m 20 years old, and in my final year of University. It’s at this point that many people sit down and ask themselves, what do I want from my life? For many people the answer is the same; I want a career and I want to build a family.

A few years ago, the answer may have been slightly different. It was commonplace for women to get married and fall pregnant at an early age, and then raise the children and look after the home. Building a career, for many women, did not use to be a priority.

In the last couple of decades however, there has been a shift in ideologies, and the number of women who strive for success in their profession before starting to think about having children has grown significantly.

This is amazing as it means there is a better work-place balance of male-to-female employees. However, deciding to start a family later in life can come with challenges.

A woman’s likelihood of getting pregnant decreases as she gets older, whilst the chance of infertility increases. Between the ages of 20 and 24, the probability of getting pregnant is around 86%. By the time you turn 40, however, this number falls to around only 36%. In addition to this, although most women reach the menopause at around 50, there are a lot of women who experience early menopause from their mid-thirties onwards.

As a result, many women may reach a stage in their life where they feel ready to conceive, but find they are not able to once they begin trying.

At this point, some couples decide to try IVF. For many people, this is a great option and they fall pregnant very quickly. For others, the process can be long and drawn out, going through many unsuccessful IVF attempts without falling pregnant. This can be financially, emotionally, and physically draining.

Kostantinos Sfakianoudis and his research team at the Genesis Athens Clinic in Greece have been working on a method that could aid older women in getting pregnant.


The treatment

They take blood from the patients to use as a fertility treatment

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The team do not use a course of hormones to try and revive the fertility of woman, as many types of IVF do. Instead, they have been looking at the curative powers of blood.

No, Sfakianoudis and his colleagues aren’t vampires, nor are they a strange cult that uses blood in a ritualistic fashion. They are however, innovative.

Blood contains a lot of things which are essential for helping your body to heal. Platelets, for example, are involved in clotting, which is important when you injure yourself. This fertility treatment involves taking the blood from a patient and isolating these platelets, by spinning them in a piece of equipment called a centrifuge.

The result is a platelet-rich plasma, which is injected directly into the ovaries and uterus of the women receiving treatment.

The team has used this treatment to help women who have reached the menopause, or who are exhibiting premenopausal symptoms. Once this treatment is done, the women are then able to retry IVF treatment.


How does it work?

They believe the treatment may be able to activate ovarian stem cells, but they’re not sure

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The short answer is: they’re not sure.

They believe that the plasma could awaken stem cells in the ovary, and encourage them to produce more eggs. Another possibility is that the treatment itself may contain stem cells.

At the moment, this treatment is in the very early stages of development. So far, it has only been administered to 27 menopausal and peri-menopausal women. Consequently, a lot more research is needed to determine how this treatment works, and whether it is safe to roll out as a go to fertility option.

Sfakianous is planning to trial this treatment in the US and Greece, so hopefully we’ll know some more about it soon.


How old is too old?

Is it fair for a baby to be born to a mother who is too old to care for them properly?

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Although many women receiving this treatment are around the age of 40, the oldest patient treated so far has been 52.

This raises important ethical issues, with some arguing that is isn’t fair on the child if the parents are too old. Should women in their 60s and 70s be allowed to conceive? Or should there be a cut-off point? How would this cut-off point be determined? Some people in their 60s are healthy and able to look after a child, whilst others have major health issues which may hinder their abilities to raise a child well.

Other people argue that it’s the individual woman’s choice if she tries to have a child later in life, and that it isn’t anybody else’s business.

Clearly, this treatment raises some moral dilemmas. And these really need to be thought about and addressed before this treatment is available on a larger scale.

Overall however, this treatment is exciting and could provide hope for couples that have been struggling to fall pregnant.