On the eve of the 25th birthday of Louise Brown, the world’s first so-called “test-tube” baby, fertility expert Professor Alan Trounson predicted infertility in the future may not be the problem it is today.

Around three out of four couples facing infertility can benefit from current treatments. Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), in which a single sperm is injected into the egg, has enabled infertile men to have children.

Embryonic screening and other techniques have improved success rates. Helping men who produce no sperm and women without eggs will be the remaining challenge but stem cells, which are able to grow into all cells and tissues in the body, could be the answer.

“In future we’ll be able to take cells and reconstruct the equivalent of sperm and eggs,” said Trounson, of Australia’s Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development.

The fertility expert says it is theoretically feasible.

While animal experiments have shown promise, Trounson said it would take at least 10 years or more and need much more basic research first.

Controversy

Stem cells, drawn from the umbilical cords of newborn babies, hold the promise of treating a range of medical conditions but their use is controversial because although they are found in adult tissue, the most flexible stem cells come from early embryos left over from In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatment.


"We'll be able to take cells and reconstruct the equivalent of sperm and eggs."

Fertility expert Alan Trounson

Professor Roger Pedersen, of Britain’s University of Cambridge, compared a stem cell to the Rosetta stone, which helped researchers to decipher hieroglyphics.

“It enables us to understand the language by which cells talk to each other, to understand how to change the fate of cells in our own bodies and how to get better function out of (our own) stem cells,” he said.

“This is all a legacy of 25 years of IVF because every single embryo that can be studied is a result of the In-Vitro Fertilisation procedure.”