We are very excited to have interviewed Dr. Zhang, an amazing fertility doctor that is leading the way in non embryonic stem cell research. Read our interview here and visit his website, listed below.
Dr. Zhang, please tell us a bit about your educational background?
I completed my medical degree at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine, and went on to receive my Master’s from Birmingham University in the UK. In 1991, I completed my Ph.D. in In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), and, after studying and researching the biology of mammalian reproduction and human embryology for nearly ten years, became the first Fellow in the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility of New York University’s School of Medicine in 2001.
Tell us about your research in regards to non-embryonic stem cell research?
As you know, a lot of stem-cell research uses embryonic stem cells (stem cells taken from embryos) that, as you can imagine, is very controversial.
Research regarding non-embryonic stem cells is a very exciting topic for my colleagues and I. It is still in its infancy and but providing a very positive outlook for fertility, so you should definitely keep an eye out for news about it.
How have fertility treatments advanced in the last ten years?
Fertility treatments have made significant advances in the past 10 years and we have been at the forefront every step of the way.
In 2005, for example, I was the first doctor in the tri-state area to deliver a live birth from an oocyte (egg) frozen using vitrification — a modern method of flash-freezing that avoids the formation of ice crystals, which can damage the egg, sperm, embryo or ovarian tissue. When using vitrification, eggs are dehydrated (swapping water for a cell protectant) and then brought down from 98.6°F (37°C) down to -320°F (-196°C) instantaneously.
Survival rates during the thawing process for vitrification are 98% versus the 55% for traditional freezing methods because the combination of cryoprotectants and flash freezing/thawing have a better chance of safely restoring the cell back to its original state. This method is gradually being adopted by major clinics as they see the benefits.
Another advance is with respect to genetic testing. We’ve been offering PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) testing since 2004 and have partnered with PGD experts in the last couple of years to provide the latest in embryo-testing technology, CGH (Comparative Genomic Hybridization). This state-of-the-art technology makes IVF safer, as we’re reducing the risk of pregnancy loss, but also reduces the chance (and cost) of multiple cycles since we’re transferring only the healthiest embryos.
The availability of CGH testing also allows our center to highlight the benefits of our less is more philosophy, which focuses on single embryo transfers to reduce the chance of multiple pregnancies. With CGH, we’re selecting, freezing and transferring only the most mature and robust embryos that are undoubtedly free of chromosomal abnormalities.
In 2012, our clinic became also one of only a dozen clinics in the country that has EmbryoScope technology (time-lapse-photography system for watching embryonic development). EmbryoScopes are incubators that include a camera that can be set to capture images at set intervals. The time-lapse photography system allows embryologists to monitor developing embryos in a whole new way. Previously, lab technicians would have to remove the delicate embryos from the incubator regularly in order to check their progress. This new technology offers more data to embryologists as they consider which embryo will be best for implantation. As a result, some believe this technology will contribute to higher IVF treatment success rates.
Recently you spoke at The Catherine Foundation, New Hope Fertility Center in New York. Can you share with us the new fertility breakthroughs for women trying to start a family?
We were very excited to sponsor the recent egg freezing event hosted by The Catherine Foundation. The event allowed leaders in the area of fertility and vitrification to share information which will help women learn and understand their fertility preservation options. It allowed for an open forum to ask questions regarding common misconceptions and concerns.
We were thrilled to have Dr. Masashige Kawayam, the director of Cryotech Corp, join us. He discussed the advances in “freezing” techniques and the high survival rates now allowing egg freezing to no longer be considered experimental but rather routine care.
Please tell us about your personal practice and where our readers can reach you for an appointment.
At New Hope Fertility Center we are all about providing individualized care to each individual. Our ability to tailor treatments to each of our patients, and the experience that we have to allow us to do this effectively with a lot of success is something that makes our center unique. The first thing that we do is talk to our patients to understand their particular needs. Then we create a customized fertility care plan. This system has allowed New Hope to have many landmark successes, including breaking the age barrier for women who previously had trouble conceiving.