Dr. Kyle Orwig, director of Pittsburgh’s Fertility Preservation Program, works with individuals and couples to explore and implement a variety of fertility preservation options. The program does more than just address current fertility issues; it inspires future research. “We are grateful to the patients who inspire our work and entrust us to help with both the simple and most challenging reproductive health care problems. The most challenging problems that we encounter in the fertility clinic become the most interesting questions in the fertility research laboratory.”

Transgender Fertility Care

A new consideration has emerged for the Fertility Preservation Program with increased awareness of transgender issues coming to the forefront in recent years. “We are working with our colleagues in other UPMC facilities to understand the unique fertility challenges of transgender patients.” The transgender community is just one group of new patients that is helping the Fertility Preservation Program recognize unmet fertility care needs and inspire new research directions.

From Science Fiction to Human Cells

Some of these new research directions may sound like science fiction, but the science is here. Dr. Orwig expects to see stem cell therapies and gene therapies for infertility in the clinic within the next 5 to 15 years. While these methods are well established in animal models, clinical trials are needed to test the safety and feasibility before these therapies are deployed into routine clinical practice.

“Further down the line, I expect that it will be possible for infertile men or women to produce functional sperm or eggs from their own skin cells. This has already been achieved in mice with the production of live offspring.” Labs around the world are already working to optimize this approach with human cells.

Infertility affects 10-15% of couples in the United States and can have a devastating impact on an individual or couple’s emotional well-being. Because infertility treatments can be expensive (and are usually paid out of pocket), the financial strain can stretch relationships thin. The financial cost also has the potential to create health disparities by limiting access for those with insufficient means. The challenges appear daunting, yet Dr. Orwig looks optimistically forward. “From a policy standpoint, I hope the future will include improved coverage for infertility treatments from insurance companies and employers to expand access to anyone who desires to have biologically related children.”

There’s a seemingly bright future for fertility studies in Pittsburgh. “I think social egg freezing in the Pittsburgh region is only just beginning, with so many local corporate, healthcare, and academic giants in the area. I think there is a great opportunity for [companies in] Pittsburgh to provide local leadership by offering similar work-life balance opportunities for women and men in their workforces.”

Interested in learning more about fertility preservations options? Read this topic’s other installments on elective egg freezing and translating laboratory fertility options to the bedside. 

Fertility Preservation Program (FPP) coordinators as well as the staff in the Center for Fertility and Reproductive Endocrinology (CFRE) at Magee are available any time to counsel patients and/or their physicians about fertility risks and treatment options. We can be reached at our dedicated fertility preservation phone line (412-641-7475) or email fertilitypreservation@upmc.edu. Additional information can be found at the FPP’s website and CFRE website.