Janet Jackson’s revelation last week to People magazine that, at age 50, she was pregnant with her first child was major news in the entertainment/pop culture world.
In the world of reproductive medicine, however?
Barely a blip.
That’s because scientific advancements have extended women’s fertility potential well into their 50s and 60s.
In fact, on the same day that the Jackson news broke, a 62-year-old Spanish doctor named Lina Alvarez gave birth to her third child — which was her second post-menopausal in-vitro fertilization. The first was a decade ago when Alvarez was 52.
And should Alvarez want to set the record for oldest IVF patient to give birth, she’ll have to wait another decade. Then she’d surpass Daljinder Kaur of India, who gave birth in 2015 at age 70, after undergoing IVF treatments for two years.
Now, while Jackson didn’t reveal to People how she conceived, it’s highly unlikely to have happened naturally.
“After the age of 40, the percentage of women able to conceive naturally is in the low single digits,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kotzen, a Palm Beach Gardens OB-GYN and fertility specialist. “And after age 45, the chances become almost too remote to calculate.”
(In 1997, a British woman named Dawn Brooke become the world’s oldest natural mother at age 59 — but she had been on hormone replacement therapy, and her doctors believe the additional estrogen triggered the pregnancy.)
Kotzen, who said the oldest patient he’s successfully treated via IVF was 52, explained that, while IVF odds do decrease with age, as long as a woman is in excellent health, creating a “take-home baby” is more dependent on the state of the eggs than the age of the mother.
“The condition of the eggs — be they donated or ones that the patient had frozen earlier — is what matters most. And it always increases a patient’s odds to freeze her own eggs at the youngest age possible.”
Kotzen also noted that the technology for maintaining frozen embryos has improved substantially over the past 10 to 15 years, which has helped increase the success rate for in-vitro treatments.
According to Parenting magazine (which folded in 2013), “Births by women who were pregnant between the ages of 50 and 54 increased by more than 165 percent from 2000 to 2013.”
And now fertility clinics in Canada and England are experimenting with a technique to “rejuvenate” older women’s frozen eggs, theoretically making them more viable, even if they were harvested well past the ideal age for freezing.
The procedure is called AUGMENT. Though the procedure is not approved in the U.S., the Massachusetts company — OvaScience — that pioneered AUGMENT explains on its website, “With the AUGMENT treatment, energy-producing mitochondria from a patient’s own EggPC cells, immature egg cells found in the protective ovarian lining, are added to the patient’s mature eggs to supplement the existing mitochondria.”
In other words, injecting “fresh” cells into ones that may have started to “stale.”
Experts have likened it to “recharging a battery” and in Great Britain, reported The Daily Mail, some doctors believe it could represent a “paradigm shift” by “turbocharging” the whole IVF process.
Some data suggests that AUGMENT could increase the IVF success rate by 500 percent, but Kotzen is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s too early to tell if this will deliver better IVF success rates, but the early research is encouraging.”