Forty years ago the first in vitro fertilisation treatment was carried out in Manchester and since then an estimated five million babies have been born worldwide using the technique.
The number of couples seeking medical help to have a family is dramatically rising and a recent Otago and Southland study found that one in four New Zealand women struggle with infertility.
Infertility Treatment is usually defined as a woman not being able to stay pregnant or not being able to become pregnant despite trying for at least 12 months. However, fertility issues affect both men and women equally and even when all measurable tests are passed, unexplained infertility still affects up to 20 per cent of couples.
Other than the novel "three person" baby technique, which was approved in the UK last year to help remove genetic diseases, there hasn't been much development around available fertility treatments and, despite its high costs, IVF is still the go-to method for many struggling couples.
This week, two very different scientific studies were published that could potentially offer new future treatments for those unable to conceive.
The first study uses a technique originating from 1917 called a hysterosalpingography. This diagnostic procedure involves injecting fluid dye into the fallopian tubes of a patient, enabling tube blockages to be viewed using x-rays.
Doctors carrying out the procedure noticed that some of the infertile patients they tested became pregnant naturally within a few months of receiving their hysterosalpingography test. As the procedure was designed to be a diagnostic test not a form of treatment, the pregnancies were unexpected and unexplained, however, anecdotally it did seem to help some women.
To tackle over 100 years of anecdotal pregnancy stories and the theory that the dye might be flushing out debris from the fallopian tubes, researchers from the University of Adelaide carried out the same test on 1240 infertile women using different types of fluids.
Their results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that 40 per cent of the infertile women who had their tubes flushed with poppyseed oil became pregnant after an average of only three months. Although the underlying mechanism for how this works is still unclear, it could suggest that a minimally invasive and relatively inexpensive oil flush might be an option for women to try before moving on to IVF treatments.
This week's second fascinating publication came out of the journal Nature Communications, where scientists from Northwestern University used 3D printing to make functional artificial ovaries.
With a lattice structure design, they 3D printed layers of gelatin ink into a structured scaffold. The pores inside the lattice were designed to be the exact shape and size needed to host follicles - the fluid-holding sacs, which contain immature egg cells.
Using a mouse model, the researchers surgically removed one ovary from the mouse and replaced it with the scaffold. They found that blood vessels quickly accepted and connected into the scaffold and the artificial ovary went on to release mature eggs naturally through the holes in the 3D printed structure.
Of the seven mice that received an artificial ovary, three gave birth to live pups developed from eggs that had been released by the implant and these pups went on to mature and reproduce naturally on their own.
Although 3D printing of organs in humans is still a long way off, this study marks a huge step towards building artificial ovaries for young women with reproductive systems damaged by cancer treatment.
Fertility issues are seldom discussed in public and those involved often suffer in silence, but this week's research brings new hope for those trying to start a family.