The human vagina has several uses, including as a conduit for discarded uterine effluent, as a receptacle and conduit for seminal influent, and as a smuggling compartment for moving various substances and materials across borders. It can also serve a mechanical function to provide sexual pleasure to human males, and as a sensory organ that under the proper conditions can provide sexual pleasure to the human female owner of the vagina herself. Finally, for many humans, the vagina is the gateway through which they pass to enter the larger world.
Now, in addition, the human vagina can be used as part of a fertilisation and incubation system, to make fertility easier and cheaper for infertile human couples.
Women having IVF can now incubate embryos in their own bodies before they are implanted in the womb. Results from a clinical trial suggest the incubation device could work as well as conventional IVF and be far cheaper.
Cylindrical in shape, INVOcell is held in the vagina by a flexible diaphragm. The embryos are kept in an inner chamber at body temperature and gases such as carbon dioxide and oxygen diffuse in and out at levels matching natural fertilisation. After five days the embryos will have grown into balls of about 100 cells. The device is then removed and doctors choose the embryo that looks healthiest to implant. __ New Scientist (via NBF)
The basic procedure is illustrated in the video below:
The INVOcell is made of a plastic which is permeable to CO2 and O2. Tucked deeply inside the vagina, the embryos are held at the woman’s body temperature at gas levels that correspond to those of natural fertilisation.
This plastic intra-vaginal fertility chambre / incubator cuts the cost of IVF in half, while maintaining the same rates of success.
In a conventional IVF lab, fledgling embryos are kept in expensive incubators for up to five days before the best ones are put into the woman’s body.
This is costly. The incubators cost tens of thousands of pounds each and have to be constantly monitored to make sure they are working properly, are at the right temperature and contain the right mix of gases for the delicate embryos to grow.
The INVOcell technique lowers costs by doing away with the incubators and the need for constant monitoring.
The early-stage embryos are instead nurtured inside a clear plastic device of roughly the same size and shape as a champagne bottle cork.
This is placed inside the woman’s vagina, which is at the right temperature and contains the right mix of carbon dioxide and oxygen for growth.
After three to five days, it is removed and the best embryos transferred to the woman’s womb as usual.
Costs are also cut by giving lower doses of the powerful drugs used to boost egg production ahead of IVF.
Lower doses also mean that a woman needs to make fewer visits to the IVF clinic to check the drugs are working properly.
So rather than taking time off work for ten trips to her doctor, she only needs three appointments.
The video above is a basic business pitch for INVO Biosciences, which is in the process of marketing its product in several nations that have already approved its use — including Canada. As the company experiences more financial success in Canada, and some countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America, it is hoping to raise the investment necessary to jump through the expensive hurdles of the US FDA approval process.
Fertility in Fits and Starts
An international team of scientists led from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet has for the first time mapped all the genes that are activated in the first few days of a fertilized human egg. The study, which is being published in the journal Nature Communications, provides an in-depth understanding of early embryonic development in human — and scientists now hope that the results will help finding for example new therapies against infertility.
… The researchers had to develop a new way of analyzing the results in order to find the new genes. Most genes code for proteins but there are a number of repeated DNA sequences that are often considered to be so-called ‘junk DNA’, but are in fact important in regulating gene expression. In the current study, the researchers show that the newly identified genes can interact with the ‘junk DNA’, and that this is essential to the start of development.
Understanding the genetics of fertilisation and early embryonic development will be crucial to the current and future study of fertility science. A combination of genetic and chromosomal screening is superior to morphological screening in the selection of embryos for implantation in IVF.
Premature Speculations on Incorporating the Invocell Concept into an Artificial Uterus System
To form the nucleus of an artificial uterus system, the pseudo-invocell would need to be made of multiple soft biological and biocompatible materials — perhaps including a scaffolding like Celleron. The pseudo-invocell would serve as both an implantation scaffold and as a micro-surgical access to the embryo chambre. The embryos would fertilise and incubate inside the vagina, and the best embryos selected for gestation. But instead of removing the embryos and placing them inside the woman’s uterus — as in the standard approach — the selected embryos are left inside the bio-chambre which is moved into a uterus, where the embryo(s) are allowed to implant.
This bioprinted early incubation chambre will contain cells and growth factors that will help the selected embryos to implant and grow normally. This bioprinted chambre will itself be implanted within a larger bioprinted artificial uterus, made using the mother’s own cells. As the embryos grow and develop into normal fetuses, the smaller chambre will both fuse with — and be absorbed by — the rapidly expanding fetus-placenta-amnion-endometrial system.
The system would be perfused with the mother’s own blood, some of which would have been banked in advance — the rest being lab-cultured in the necessary quantities just-in-time, to maintain freshness.
Possible ways of building a uterus:
Doctors in the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine produce organs and parts of organs in a few different ways. One is by taking a small number of stem cells from a patient’s blood or bone marrow, and then amplifying and shaping the growth of those cells. Another involves taking a moderate number of the patient’s own uterine cells, and then de-differentiating them, meaning that they are converted from highly specialized uterine cells back into less specialized cells to allow cellular growth (called “cellular amplification”) in the lab. The cells are then applied to a uterus-shaped scaffold. When transplanted, they re-differentiate back into specialized uterine cells.
Growing a placenta within the artificial uterus system is still a large challenge — perhaps the largest technical challenge to researchers so far. Scientists at the Al Fin Institutes for Future Fertility, however, expect that once the process gets going in earnest, the placenta problem will largely take care of itself via the magic of gene expression and bio-self-organisation. If the embryo is right, and the endometrium is right, the implantation is healthy and successful, and system parameters and perfusion are maintained, the placenta will grow.
Researchers are learning how to produce endometrium, are developing artificial amniotic fluid, and are learning more about the special environmental parameters needed to assist gestation. Most of the scientific obstacles are likely to be solved fairly soon. The political and ethical obstacles will remain — hobbling the final scientific advances.
Bioprinting viable hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, will be more technically difficult.
Below is a TED talk / demo of the current state of the art in bioprinting organs, including solid organs such as kidneys. As mentioned above, bioprinting hollow muscular organs such as urinary bladders and uteri are much simpler to do.
The U. Louisville (KY) project to print a human heart is another long-range complex-organ project that should teach researchers a great deal about 3D bioprinting.
Keep in mind that 3D bioprinting is not about printing a “thing.” It is about kickstarting a dynamic process that will have a life of its own — within a particular life matrix.
Like it or not, we will be looking more closely at the topic of artificial wombs, assisted reproduction, and other related issues in the future.