Older women desperate to become mothers could be helped by a revolutionary technique that makes their eggs young again.
Doctors in Nottingham, UK, want to turbocharge poor-quality eggs by using young, energetic cells taken from elsewhere in a patient's ovaries.
The many women in their 40s who turn to donor eggs would be able to use their own instead. Younger patients could also benefit, with early research suggesting the technique could boost the odds of pregnancy five fold.
Professor Simon Fishel, who has asked the fertility regulator for permission to try the Augment treatment, said: "It's a potential paradigm shift."
However, there are questions about the safety of the technique, which could cost as much as £14,000 ($NZ30,000), and has yet to be approved for use in the US, despite being invented there.
There are also concerns that by manipulating eggs, the technique crosses a crucial ethical line. It might strengthen the case for tweaking eggs in other ways, creating "perfect" babies made to order by hair or eye colour.
One of three treatments being developed by Massachusetts-based OvaScience, Augment aims to revitalise old and poor quality eggs by giving them a power boost. An egg's energy comes from mitochondria, tiny "battery packs" that weaken with age.
OvaScience believes these can be supplemented with young, healthy mitochondria taken from a bank of very immature eggs that lurk on the edges of a woman's ovaries.
These extra "batteries" should give the egg the energy it needs to develop into an embryo.
The technique is already being trialled in Turkey, Dubai and Canada, where the world's first Augment baby was born last summer. Natasha Rajani, of Toronto, who had spent almost four years trying for a baby before Zain was born, said: "I am still in awe. It is something we had never thought would really happen for us."
When doctors in Dubai carried out a trial on women in their late 30s who had been through IVF multiple times, pregnancy rates jumped five fold.
Professor Fishel, who co-founded the world's first IVF clinic and is president of Care Fertility, Britain's biggest chain of fertility centres, has asked the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for consent to treat 20 women.
Each would have a sliver of tissue removed from the edge of their ovaries using keyhole surgery. The immature eggs would then be removed and raided for their mitochondria.
These would then be injected into the woman's "normal" eggs when she is undergoing IVF, in a bid to pep them up and boost her odds of motherhood. Professor Fishel, who holds a professorial chair at Nottingham University, said: "It may provide new, revolutionary options for women to have their own genetic child."
However he cautioned that Augment will not help rid eggs of genetic problems that arise with age.
Professor Charles Kingsland, of the Hewitt Fertility Centre at Liverpool Women's Hospital, said: "It is very interesting and, crikey, if it works, it will be amazing.
"It could be a real breakthrough. Like most things though, it might come to nothing."
Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said:
"There is great focus at the moment on manipulating and playing around with eggs but a much simpler approach would be to educate women to really understand their biology and ensure society allows them to have children when they are younger."
- Daily Mail