A fertile news day!

Twenty-two years after her cancer-stricken dad was sterilized, a healthy baby girl is born. Plus, stem cells may mean new hope for women struggling to conceive.


Katharine Mieszkowski
April 14, 2009 10:43PM (UTC)

Newborn Stella Biblis of North Carolina is going to have a killer story to share with her friends when she's old enough to start talking about where babies come from. Stella's dad, Chris Biblis, now 38, was just 16 when he was diagnosed with leukemia and told he needed treatment that would render him sterile. In April 1986, doctors put some of Biblis' sperm in cryogenic storage before he underwent the cancer therapy.

Twenty-two years later, in June 2008, fertility doctors thawed some of the would-be father's sperm, implanted it in his wife's egg, and Stella was conceived. "From my life being saved to being able to create a life, words just can't describe where we are now," Biblis, who has been free of leukemia since the age of 18, told the Telegraph. "I've got this bundle of joy to appreciate. It's truly a miracle."

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The 22-year lapse between the sperm storage and conception is a world record, if not by much; the previous record was 21 years.

On the emerging science front, meanwhile, scientists in Shanghai are now challenging the standard medical view that a woman is born with a lifetime's supply of egg cells and never makes new ones after birth. If the challenge holds up, it could have major implications for how infertility in women is treated.

The Chinese researchers, led by Kang Zou and Ji Wu of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, extracted stem cells from the ovaries of adult mice and showed that the cells gave rise to new eggs and that healthy babies could be produced from those eggs, according to U.S. News and World Report. Yes, the team worked only with mice, but similarities with other mammals mean that their research will likely set off a race to prove the same results in humans, if it withstands scientific scrutiny. (The New York Times reported that other scientists have made similar claims in the past, but they've not panned out.)

Deborah Kotz, the "On Women" health columnist for U.S. News and World Report, points out that while the news could provide a new glimmer of hope for women suffering from infertility, there are still many unknowns: "Do female germline stem cells exist in the human ovary? Do these stem cells exist regardless of a woman's age? Even after cancer treatments? Can they be coaxed to produce viable human eggs? Could a woman who has new eggs implanted ovulate on her own and become pregnant? Would the babies produced from these eggs be completely healthy?"

So, while it's too soon to herald the results as a breakthrough for women struggling to conceive, it is fascinating to learn that the facts of life that you learned in high school biology -- women are born with all their eggs, while men generate sperm during their lives -- is now under serious scientific challenge.


Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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