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How Science Is Changing the Future of Fertility

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More women in the United States are having children later in life, and the emergence of technologies like fertility trackers and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are helping women conceive at a point in their life they prefer.

At the Fortune Brainstorm Health Conference on Wednesday, experts debated the promises and limitations of these kinds of frontier technologies—and speculated on what kind of impact they would have on the future of fertility.

Some companies are tackling what they see as the first problem: a lack of knowledge about fertility. "More and more women need a basic understanding of their reproductive health," says Angie Lee, chief product officer of Celmatix, a fertility-prediction company. Celmatix created the world's first comprehensive genetic screening test for reproductive health, which helps women assess their risk for fertility problems. "Women who are experiencing infertility will say, 'I wish I had known.' We want to empower women to have as much of that information up front."

Innovations further down the line, like IVF that uses DNA from three parents, could one day help more couples who are struggling to conceive. But currently, experimentation for these technologies is limited to countries outside the U.S. "It took me 20 years to realize our country is very conservative," said Dr. John Zhang, founder and director of New Hope Fertility Clinic and one of the creators of the technique used for the world’s first three-person baby.

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Even some of the more widely available techniques can still have obstacles. Fertility-related treatments can be prohibitively expensive, and options like egg freezing, for example, don't always lead to pregnancy. "We don’t have guarantees," said Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology & reproductive sciences at Yale University. "It’s still a new process."

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Yet despite the issues, having a choice still feels better for many women than having no option at all. "The ability to freeze eggs or embryos to give you a little more time, I think, is empowering," said Jennifer Tye, vice president and head of U.S. Operations at the fertility tracking company, Glow.

The limitations of current technologies can be frustrating, but experts are hopeful for the future. As for right now, Minkin points out that there's plenty that women can do to improve their fertility profile: maintain a healthy weight, don't smoke and find out what age women in your family typically go through menopause.

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