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On July 25th, 1978 in Oldham, England, a baby girl named Louise was born.
Unlike any baby before her, Louise was conceived in a Petri dish by a remarkable new procedure known as in vitro fertilization or IVF.
Since then millions of so-called "test-tube babies" have been born.
Today 1 in 60 American births is thanks to IVF and other fertility treatments, which have spawned a booming new industry in many different countries.
But, are fertility businesses making promises they can't keep?
Sacha Nauta can help answer that.
She's the public policy editor at The Economist.
So there's a lot going on in the fertility industry.
Firstly you're seeing a lot of growth in people seeking out IVF treatment.
IVF provides a valuable option for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to conceive.
But, there's another emerging market.
There's quite a lot of exciting stuff going on around so-called fertility "preservation."
That's freezing of egg or sperm cells for IVF in the future, often years later.
Egg freezing is a relatively new procedure and was officially considered experimental in America until 2012.
It's actually aimed at sort of millennials people in their 20s who aren't thinking about having babies at all but who might want to preserve the idea of having kids.
It opens up the idea that as a person at sort of peak fertility in say your mid-20s you can take your cells, put them on ice, and in theory take them out whenever suits you when you're ready to have a baby.
This is what egg-freezing businesses appear to promise: a chance to put parenthood on ice, which appeals to young people who are increasingly interested in having children later, for a variety of reasons.
What clinics sell you tends to be time, or women's empowerment, or taking control of your destiny.
All of these things that you know chime with what younger women right now would like to have.
And women are increasingly buying in.
The number of egg-freezing procedures has grown rapidly over the past decade.
The process isn't cheap.
Egg freezing can cost $15,000-$20,000 per cycle, which is a single batch of eggs.
It often requires multiple cycles to increase chances of success.
Egg freezing and similar services are part of the burgeoning women's-health industry dubbed "femtech" and are attracting plenty of interest from investors.
So we've seen a lot of particularly private-equity money go into the sector as well as venture capital into the more early stage stuff.
Investment in fertility firms grew from less than $200 million in 2009 to $624 million in 2018.
Investors are attracted to the growth prospects, high-profit margins, and recession-proof demand.
Investors, businesses, and prospective parents all stand to benefit.
But the reliability of these services might be oversold.
IVF has a success rate of about 25-30% per cycle.
But that doesn't tell you much.
It depends on who you are. It very much depends on how old you are.
On freezing I'm a bit more cautious.
They're, it's really early days.
Birth rates from frozen eggs should be taken with a grain of salt.
Most women who have had their eggs frozen have not yet retrieved them.
So the sample sizes are small.
It's just too soon to draw reliable conclusions.
Still, clinics might misrepresent the data to encourage freezing.
An egg-freezing clinic might tell you "our success rate is "X" and you might think "oh that sounds good."
And what they may not tell you is that is based on donor eggs of 25-year-olds.
Whereas actually you're a 38-year-old, which is the average age of most people who go to egg clinics and therefore your chances are much lower.
So you are not that number that they're showing you.
I think the most important caveat is that there is no such thing as a guarantee to have a baby.
And one of my concerns in the industry right now is that the caution isn't being sold enough.
It may well help you one day, but there's also a very good chance that it won't.
There is also a lack of sufficient regulation of fertility services, especially in America.
Freezing clinics in particular — you know a young, new industry.
I think there's a lot of problems there.
There have been a few quite well-published scandals around loss of these cells, loss of embryos.
I think about who they could have been and what they would have been like and yeah, those were our future children.
And what we're seeing right now is when these kind of dramatic things do happen, it's clear that it's a totally under-regulated sector where there are no clear standards for how you look after these cells.
So what's needed from the fertility sector?
It's honesty — it is just more honesty about the limits of the science, honesty about the costs, and yes more investment in R&D, which is I think a great thing.
There is still so much more to explore and so much room for improvement around these treatments and clearly a growing market.
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Does egg freezing give false hope to prospective parents? | The Economist

1016 Folder Collection
Fibby published on October 9, 2019    Fibby translated    Steve reviewed
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