Stem Cells Offer Hope for Infertile Couples

The waiting rooms of Cornell Weil, Columbia University and New York University fertility clinics have up to forty women waiting to see specialists on any given day. Many of these women, having delayed having a baby for years, now face a deeply troubling scenario: the impossibility of having a genetic child of their own. For most women over 40 whose ovaries are now producing few and poor quality eggs, fertility specialists offer little help. Ovarian reserve, or how many eggs you have in your ovaries, is measured by a number called FSH. They call FSH the cruelest number in infertility because a high FSH signifies an extremely low chance of conception.


Most women with diminished ovarian reserve use donor eggs to conceive. A number of the celebrities one often sees having babies in their mid to late forties have used donor eggs. However, this fact is never discussed in public, leaving many women with the false notion that age is not an important factor in fertility: “I know a 43 year old can have a baby. I just read about Celebrity X in People magazine who had twins and she is 45 years old!!” 

Recently, some news coming out of Egypt may offer help for both celebrities and non-celebrities who suffer from diminished ovarian reserves. In the fall of 2010, Dr. Osama Azmy of the National Research Centre in Cairo announced that he had been able to kick start prematurely failed ovaries in rats by using embryonic stem cells. The rats’ ovaries had begun to create fresh new eggs, and FSH levels had returned within eight weeks to pre-ovarian failure levels. If Azmy can replicate the same results in humans as planned, women will be able to take their time finding a partner and building a career, and still be able to have their own genetic offspring. This scenario is not socially irresponsible: men already have these choices available to them.

The path to the treatment is controversial as are the complicated social implications afterwards. First, Azmy would need approval to use stem cells from aborted fetuses or discarded embryos from fertility procedures like IVF. Embryonic stem cell research and therapy is illegal in several countries, including many states in the US. If their use is allowed, will we see harvesting of embryos for the specific purpose of kickstarting the ovaries of infertile women? Recently, researchers have been able to return mature cells to their immature or stem cell status, which avoids using embryos altogether. This might be one solution to the biopolitical roadblocks in using stem cells.

Right now, Azmy is urging caution because these rats have only exhibited functioning ovaries, and will next produce offspring, which will be analyzed for disorders and also to check whether they are genetically related to the mother or to the donor who supplied the stem cells. He is also considering the treatment for women younger than 40 who suffer from premature ovarian failure.

But if the treatment works, and can be extended to older women, then even post-menopausal women in their 60s could have children. Should the state put a ceiling on how old a woman can be to have this treatment? While it made sense from an evolutionary perspective to reduce the fertility of older women when lifespan was less than 50 years, it doesn’t make sense now that the life expectancy of anyone born today in the developed world is 100 years. Not only are people living longer, but they are also healthier and earning well past the retirement age of 65. This means a woman who is 50 years old could easily nurture and provide for a baby until it reaches adulthood. Besides, there is no law stopping a man from having a child late in life; men can conceive well into their 50s and beyond. David Letterman, for example, had his son at 56 years.

We have already had much controversy over the “Octomom” who gave birth to eight babies at once using in-vitro fertilization (IVF). We can expect as much controversy over cases of ineligible mothers reversing menopause and having children very late in life. However, just as with IVF, stem cell therapy for ovaries can also give hope to many deserving women who are healthy, relatively young and fully capable of looking after a child.

Ayesha and Parag Khanna explore human-technology co-evolution and its implications for society, business and politics at The Hybrid Reality Institute.

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    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
      Patriotic.

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.


    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.