A new fertility treatment has allowed a woman in Japan to give birth, even though she'd stopped producing eggs around four years prior. The new treatment is being called "in vitro activation," and it may be able to let women who have become infertile because of a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) have children. The researchers behind it think that it may be applicable to even more conditions than that, and it's already seeing its first success stories against POI. Another patient has become pregnant with the method, and three other women were able to produce eggs.

Ovarian follicles that had stopped growing were reactivated

The method involves activating ovarian follicles that have become inactive. Generally, a single one of these follicles will grow to maturity and release an egg each month, but POI prevents that from happening. This research, which was led from Japan's St. Marianna University School of Medicine with additional work by Stanford, has determined a way to activate those follicles again in some women. According to the Los Angeles Times, by removing part of the ovary, cutting the tissue into small cubes, and then treating the cubes with a drug that encouraged growth, the research team was able to prevent the process that would normally stop the follicles from maturing, and coax them into producing eggs.

After treatment, transplanting the cubes of tissue back to the women led to follicles growing on 8 out of 13 patients, reports the LA Times. Five of the women produced eggs, which have been fertilized using in vitro fertilization techniques. Many embryos were successfully created in the process, though some still remain frozen while others have failed to establish a pregnancy after being implanted. The woman who did give birth is 29, and reportedly hadn't been producing eggs since she was 24. The researchers' findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Lead researcher Kazuhiro Kawamura performed the Cesarean section for the successful birth himself. "I could not sleep the night before the operation, but when I saw the healthy baby, my anxiety turned to delight," Kawamura says in a statement. "The couple and I hugged each other in tears." The research team is now looking to see whether the method is effective in women who are infertile for other reasons, including sterilizing cancer treatments. Even though the new technique is only working with a single cause of infertility right now, Kawamura sees this birth as an important step forward: "I hope that [in vitro activation] will be able to help patients with primary ovarian insufficiency throughout the world."