IVF for Endangered Species

As the world’s first “Test Tube Baby,” Louise Brown celebrates her 37th Birthday, we are reminded of how far reproductive medicine has come and where its beginnings can be found. white-rhino2 (1)

Many medical techniques are refined and practiced with the help of our mammalian counterparts.  Within our own field, the newest breakthrough in egg freezing, Vitrification of oocytes, was developed for use with Tigers and successfully helped bring several of their subspecies back from extinction.

Now I share my passion for fertility and I am turning my knowledge toward the assistance of decimated species, like the North African White Rhinoceros.  Down to only 5 animals left, the remaining White Rhinos consist of 4 aged females, who’s age significantly diminishes the quality of their eggs (and who might not be able to support the natural mating patterns of Rhinos), and one male, who’s sperm quality is low.  This is the end of the species.

But conservationists are retrieving eggs and sperm and we are going to use ICSI to create and then mature embryos.  Within 5 years, while the remainders of the species might not survive, we expect to have created at least one baby White Rhino.  Currently we are looking to retrieve more sperm for a better selection and more possible embryos.  Then Rhino IVF/M will be performed.  IVF/M is also known as ‘in vitro maturation” or IVM.  This means that the embryo will be matured outside of the uterus to ensure health and stability before being re-implanted.  In humans, this also typically means fewer stimulating hormones.  After the maturation of the Rhino embryo’s, they will be transferred back into the females.  But the transfer techniques still need some sorting out.  The transfer is complicated by the Rhinoceros physiology.  Among other complications, the Rhino cervix is much longer and more curved than a human.  So special techniques are being practiced for maximum effect.  There are even discussions about using Southern White Rhino’s as surrogates to carry the babies to term.

Humanity doesn’t live in isolation but in an ecological balance with all other species.  As the top wrung on the food chain, we are burdened with being most responsible for change on a global level.  It is too short sighted to believe that what we do won’t have ramifications across the globe, to the environment, to ecosystems, and to each other.

Every life counts, and that isn’t limited to people.  The technology that I study and employ, the techniques that we use daily to help people discover the joys of family, may also be able to save a multitude of species around the globe.   I kindly thank all people involved in this project and who support endangered species.  Further, I encourage everyone to find ways to support it, even if it is solely through word of mouth.   Awareness is the beginning.

 

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