By Neelabja Adkuloo
In November 2017, Emma Wren Gibson was born in Tennessee from an embryo that was frozen 24 years ago. Fertility experts claim that this is the longest period an embryo has ever been stored, setting a new world record. Emma was conceived in 1992 and donated to a Knoxville-based clinic that specialises in embryo adoption.
The birth of the baby
Tina Gibson was 25 years old when she gave birth to Emma. The fertilised embryo was transferred into her uterus via In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) by the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC). The not-for-profit organisation encourages people to donate embryos to those couples who are unable or unwilling to conceive a child naturally.
People who have embryos frozen for fertility treatment end up with ‘leftovers’ 20 percent of the time. These people have an option of disposing of the additional ones, storing them for later use or donating them to a clinic like the NEDC. The organisation, which reportedly stores over a million frozen embryos, claims to operate on the principle of Christian faith. It believes in the sacredness of life and exists to save embryos from destruction. Only a couple that meets the clinic’s strict religious criteria may adopt them. Tina turned to IVF after her spouse Benjamin developed fertility issues as a result of cystic fibrosis. Three embryos were transferred to her, out of which one successfully developed. The new parents admitted to feeling a tad bit surprised upon learning the exact age of baby Emma.
Snow babies: Children of modern technology
Emma is referred to as a ‘snow baby’ precisely because of her frozen state. A ‘snow baby’ is a term used to describe an embryo that is stored in a frozen state for potential future birth. Experts note that medically, the age of the embryo does not matter. As long as a frozen embryo survives being thawed out, it is at par with a fresh embryo. There is no evidence that snow babies are more prone to birth defects. Previously, the record for the longest-known successful ‘snow baby’ birth was held by a 20-year old embryo. Instead of focusing on something as unimportant as the age of the fetus, couples tend to incline towards embryos that they share physical characteristics with. Other parameters include race, religion, and talents, such as having a mathematical bent of mind. Reportedly, the Gibsons were looking for an embryo that resembled them in terms of height and body built type.
Major fertility breakthroughs
Emma is one example of the many exciting solutions science has racked up over the years to tackle infertility issues. The widespread coverage of her birth is expected to encourage more people to come forward and donate embryos. Cancer-afflicted people who are at a high risk of losing their fertility after long-continuing chemotherapy treatments could benefit from preserving their healthy fetus for later use.
Procedures, such as IVF that uses DNA from three parents, are now being tested to offer more choices to people. The technique involves taking the DNA from the egg of a woman with a mitochondrial disease, and putting it into the egg of another healthy woman, followed by ultimately fusing the egg with a man’s sperm. The most exciting advancement in this field, particularly for a woman born without a womb, is uterine transplants. It is still in the trial stage but, to date, many babies have been born as a result of uterine transplants. If these breakthrough innovations are any sign, the day is not very far when ‘infertility’ would be an extinct concept.
Featured Image Source: Unsplash
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