Emerging biotechnology is greeting potential parents with new possibilities, and may change the way families are created in the future.
Rising reproductive biotech startups are changing the game for prospective parents, building off of the potential of in-vitro gametogenesis (I.V.G.): the production of gametes from nonreproductive cells outside of the body. Conception Biosciences in Berkely, California is one company that is testing the ability to make egg cells from stem cells. Currently, the company has re-created several stages of egg development and is working towards creating one singular process to ultimately produce a follicle viable for maturation. “The prime focus right now is getting this follicle-formation step to occur,” Conception Biosciences CEO Matt Krisiloff told the New Yorker.
New York-based startup Gameto is studying in-vitro maturation to ultimately make egg freezing and I.V.F. more seamless, less painful, and less intrusive. “We’re really hopeful of allowing women to go through I.V.F. with much fewer side effects, less clinical time, and a lower cost—something that you could do in, like, egg-freezing kiosks,” physician and Gameto co-founder Dina Radenkovic told the New Yorker. “I see it almost like an extension of the beauty studio, where being proactive about your reproduction and longevity just seems like an act of self-care.”
The desire for reproductive advancements is strong and growing globally. An increasing number of women are freezing their eggs, postponing having children but ensuring the possibility of starting a family on their own terms, in their own time. In a feature for VICE, writer Julienne C. Raboca unpacks what she calls “Egg Freezing FOMO,” and outlines the options, or lack there-of, for egg freezing that millennial women in Asia are faced with.
One friend of Raboca’s, named Chi An, didn’t want children until she met a partner who changed her mind. Now, at 40, Chi An struggles to produce enough eggs to viably freeze and use later on. On the other hand, Raboca also highlighted a single 35-year old friend, Stephanie, who decided to freeze her eggs because so many of her girlfriends tried and recommended it. Some friends chose less expensive clinics available in the Philippines, while others turned to high-end OB-GYNs at double the cost to trust with the process. “The premise is that it’s an insurance policy,” Stephanie told Raboca. “So it should be a working, credible insurance policy. If and when I want to use it to get pregnant.”
Of course, legislative support is necessary for consumers to access these services where they live. According to Raboca, many Asian countries limit elective egg freezing and harvesting: Singapore allows women aged 21-35 to freeze their eggs as of this year, but unmarried women are often prohibited from IVF or egg freezing treatments in parts of China, Thailand and Malaysia. Expensive options mixed with harsh restrictions lead Raboca herself to consider leaving a baby in her future up to fate and biology, rather than science.
According to Conception Biosciences co-founder Bianka Seres, I.V.G. is the future of reproductive science. After attending the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual conference in 2021, she told the New Yorker that conversations about I.V.G. were “very factual: when this happens, this is how we’re going to use it.” As people – men and women – continue to search for viable ways to reproduce on their own terms, these new technologies could make alternative methods of having a family more accessible and possible for all.