TIME Research

Why Moms Are Better at Baby Talk Than Dads

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Do dads baby talk to their little ones? Researchers recorded hours of audio of parents interacting with their toddlers to find out

Most mothers do it without thinking: cooing to their young children in a sing-songy, high pitched way that seems to help them connect better with their youngsters. But do fathers who spend time with their toddlers do the same?

MORE: Who’s Better at Baby Talk, Mom or Dad?

Mark VanDam, a professor in speech and hearing sciences at Washington State University, wanted to find out in his new study presented at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. While previous studies have looked at how moms and dads interact with their preschoolers, most of these have been in the rather artificial setting of a lab. So researchers led by VanDam strapped recording devices on both parents and their toddlers for an entire day in order to hear what parents were really saying to their children—and how they were saying it—in a more natural setting.

They found that mothers do indeed adopt “motherese” when addressing their preschoolers, but fathers did not—even those who spent more time with their children. In fact, the fathers talked to their young children in the same way they conversed with adults.

MORE: How to Improve a Baby’s Language Skills Before They Start to Talk

That may be because mothers vary their intonation more and tend to speak in a more infantile way in order to bond better with their toddlers, according to a theory proposed in the 1970s. Mothers are supposed to teach their children how to connect on a more intimate level, and speaking in a more melodic way introduces children to this way of communicating, the theory goes. Fathers, on the other hand, are the bridge for preschoolers to the outside world, and fathers’ more varied vocabulary and adult intonations help to familiarize them with this way of connecting with others. “The basic idea is that moms provide the link to the domestic, more intimate type of talk, while dads provide the link to the outside world,” says VanDam. “In that sense, moms and dads provide different kinds of experiences that give kids more comprehensive exposure to what kinds of language they need in the real world.”

In his present study, both parents lived full time with the child, and in some families, mothers worked outside of the home. VanDam is hoping to extend the study to look at single-parent families, as well as same-sex households, to see if the gender-specific ways of interacting with toddlers stay the same.

TIME Cancer

Why Women With Dense Breasts May Not Need More Screening

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Science Photo Library—Getty Images/Brand X

The debate over how much screening women with dense breasts should get continues

For several years now, there been a growing push to advise women with dense breast tissue to get more than just an annual mammogram. And there’s good reason for it—studies show that dense breast tissue can mask small potential tumors on a mammography image, and dense breast tissue may also be a risk factor for breast cancer.

But the latest study shows that not all women with dense breasts may be at higher risk of cancer. In a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Dr. Karla Kerlikowske, professor of medicine and epidemiology/biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco, and her colleagues provide much-awaited data on exactly what the risk of cancer is for these women.

MORE: High-Tech 3D Mammograms Probably Saved This Woman’s Life

The researchers studied 365,426 women 40 to 74 years old who had more than 831,000 mammograms total. They also had information on the number of breast cancer cases among the women within 12 months of their mammogram. When the team then applied different models for predicting which women would develop cancer—including just their dense breasts, or combinations of their dense breasts and evaluations of their five-year breast cancer risk with factors such as their age, race, family history of the disease, recent breast biopsy and breast density—they found that breast density alone was not a good indicator of cancer risk.

Dense breast tissue is determined by radiologists reading a mammogram and is relatively subjective. About half of the women in the study with dense breasts turned out to have low risk of developing cancer. And of those with higher risk, only 24% would have benefited from additional screening such as having an MRI or ultrasound. Overall, that means only 12% of the population of women getting screened by mammograms, including those with dense breast tissue, would need additional screening.

MORE: New Genetic Test for Breast Cancer Would Be Cheaper and Easier

That’s a dramatic difference from the current practice, in which almost all women with dense breasts are advised to consider supplemental screening. In fact, 22 states now mandate that doctors who receive a report that their patient’s breasts contain dense tissue must discuss potential additional screening with their patients. A federal law requiring the same discussion is currently under review. Not all insurers cover this extra screening, however, which raises questions about how cost effective and useful it might be.

The latest results hint that the practice may not be justified. About 42% to 45% of women who get screened will have dense breast tissue, and “you can’t do supplemental screening for 45% of the population,” says Kerlikowske. “It’s just not realistic, neither from a time or cost standpoint.”

MORE: Many Breast Cancer Patients Get Unnecessary Radiation

As the study shows, it’s possible to figure out which women with dense breasts are more likely to develop cancer by considering not just their breast density but other risk factors as well. “I think people right now are looking at the density report from the mammogram and not taking into account age and other factors,” says Kerlikowske. “But you can’t; you have to look at the risk factors together.”

If everyone with dense breasts received additional screening, 1,124 women would have to be screened to catch one potential case of cancer. By incorporating the other risk factors, that number drops to 694.

Now that Kerlikowske and her team have zeroed in on a way to identify the women with dense breasts at highest risk of developing cancer, they plan to look at whether MRI and ultrasound tests can help these women to avoid aggressive disease and live longer.

TIME medicine

How Human Bones Have Changed—For the Worse

A new study investigates why modern humans have lighter bones than our ancestors

We’re definitely heavier than we’ve ever been — about two-thirds of adults are now overweight or obese — but our bones aren’t as strong as those of our forebears. In fact, they’re not even as strong as the bones of our closest living relatives, the chimps.

What caused this thinning of modern man’s skeleton? We could blame our shift from hunter-gatherer lifestyles to a more sedentary way of life, and the ensuing change in our diet. Or we could place the blame on modernization, pointing the finger at buggies, cars, planes, trains and other technological advances for keeping us off our feet and less mobile.

MORE: Milk Might Not Save Your Bones, Study Says

A report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may provide some answers. Researchers led by Christopher Ruff, professor in the center for functional anatomy and evolution at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and his colleagues decided to find out which force was responsible for driving the lightening of our bones. Using bone samples from 1,842 people collected from all over Europe from the Paleolithic period (11,000 to 33,000 years ago) to the 20th century, they found that the biggest shift in bone strength came with the move from a hunter-gatherer way of living to an agricultural one. The move to more settled and permanent living arrangements had a dramatic effect on changes in the human skeleton. Since that time, the bones of Homo sapiens have remained relatively similar.

Ruff’s team looked at the long bones in the legs and arms, and used arm strength as a control. Any changes in mobility would be more likely reflected in the leg bones, specifically in their front-to-back bending strength. These are the parts of the legs that would show the most adaptation to walking, running and any forces provided by movement. During the Mesolithic era, 10,000 years ago, homo sapiens gradually began settling in villages and adopting a more sedentary lifestyle, and leg bones reflect this change with a decline in strength. The side-to-side strength of the leg bones changed little in this time. Arm bones also didn’t change much in strength, suggesting that it wasn’t something like diet driving the decline, but the lack of mobility that was likely responsible for the lightening of the bones.

This drop in bone strength in the lower limbs remained constant throughout the Iron Age and the Roman era, he says, and into the 20th century. That implies that urbanization, and the domestication of horses for transport and the invention of the car had little effect on the bone strength of modern man — certainly not as much as the shift to an agricultural way of life. “It was really becoming settled and living in villages and towns and agriculture that really had the primary effect on bones,” says Cullum.

That doesn’t mean, however, that our bones can’t regain some semblance of their former robustness. Bone strength is dependent on use, and that’s evidence in tennis players and baseball pitchers, who show dramatically stronger bones in their swinging or pitching arms. “Bone still have the ability to respond to more force on them,” says Cullum. “It’s not like there has been some genetic change that we can’t do anything about that has lightened the bones.” But it does take consistent and weight-bearing exercise to spur bone strength — which might be worth the effort if it helps us avoid fractures and osteoporosis.

TIME Brain

Concussions Continue to Plague Retired NFL Players

A study shows that a concussion during their playing years may have lasting effects on NFL players’ memory years later

While there may be more questions than answers about how best to protect football players from the effects of concussions, there’s more data suggesting that the negative effects of head injuries can be long lasting.

In the latest report, one of the first to combine both anatomical screening of the brain with performance on standard memory and cognitive tests, researchers found that retired NFL players who suffered a concussion may continue to experience cognitive deficits many years later.

Munro Cullum, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and his colleagues report in JAMA Neurology that having a concussion, and in particular losing consciousness after a concussion, can have long-lasting effects on the brain. The team studied 28 former NFL players, all of whom had a history of concussion, who were compared to 21 matched volunteers who did not have a history of concussion. Eight of the retired players were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which meant they had some deficits in memory but weren’t prevented from living their daily lives by these changes, and they were compared to six participants with MCI who did not have a history of concussion.

MORE: How Concussions Can Lead to Poor Grades

Overall, the retired players performed worse on average on standard tests of memory than health controls, suggesting that their history of concussion affected their memory skills in some way. This was supported by imaging data of the hippocampus, the region in the brain responsible for coordinating memory. On average, the athletes showed smaller hippocampal volumes than the controls. (The scientists did not, however, collect data on the player’s hippocampal volume before the concussion, although the comparison to the non-athletes suggests that the concussions may have influenced shrinkage in this region.) The volumes of retired players who were knocked unconscious after a concussion were even smaller than those of healthy controls, and the same was true for the athletes with MCI when compared to non-athletes with MCI.

“We know that normal aging itself is associated with some declines in both hippocampal volume as well as memory function,” says Cullum, “but it seems that those declines are accentuated when there is a concussion, and when there is a concussion with loss of consciousness.”

MORE: Judge OKs 65-Year Deal Over NFL Concussions That Could Cost $1B

The findings don’t address another big question in the field, which is how best to treat people who have had a concussion. The data is conflicting on how much rest following a head injury is ideal; most experts recommend a day or two and then gradual return to normal activities, with a break if symptoms like headaches and dizziness return.

While Cullum says that most patients with concussions recover completely within weeks of the injury, football players may be at increased risk of longer lasting cognitive deficits because of their repeated exposure to the danger. And that risk increases if they lose consciousness following a concussion. Documenting concussions and any blacking out afterward is critical for helping future physicians to manage the care of someone with such head injuries, he says.

TIME Developmental Disorders

The Kids Most Likely to Have ADHD In the U.S.

The latest report on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder shows higher risk by gender, race and family income

Using data collected from parent reports of the developmental disorder attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that boys, white children and kids living in poverty have the highest rates of the condition in the U.S.

The information on ADHD, collected from a representative sample of U.S. families between 2011 and 2013 as part of the National Health Interview Survey, shows that 9.5% of children ages four to 17 were diagnosed with ADHD. The diagnosis was more common among older children than in younger ones.

Twice as many boys as girls were diagnosed, and more white children than any other race were told they had ADHD.

Family income also seemed to contribute in some way; children on public insurance had the highest rates of ADHD at 11.7%, compared to those with private insurance (8.6%) and children without insurance (5.7%). More children from families with incomes less than 200% of the federal poverty line were diagnosed with the condition than those from families living at about that threshold.

While the survey only showed a snapshot of the rates of ADHD broken down by gender, race and family income, the information could help public health officials better understand who is being diagnosed with the condition and potentially find better ways of providing support to those families, both in school and at home. “In view of the economic and social costs associated with ADHD and the potential benefits of treatment, the continue surveillance of diagnosed ADHD is warranted,” the report authors from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics write.

TIME Research

The New Science of How to Quit Smoking

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Two studies shed light on promising new ways to make kicking the habit easier, using both biology and behavior

Studies show that most smokers want to quit. So why are some people more successful at cutting out nicotine than others? The latest studies looking at the brains and behavior of smokers may provide some explanations.

Some people may be hardwired to have an easier time giving up their cigarettes, suggests one new trial described in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. It turns out that some smokers start out with a particularly rich network of brain neurons in an area called the insula, which regulates cravings and urges and communicates cues: like seeing a cigarette or smelling tobacco smoke, then wanting to light up. Joseph McClernon, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, ran MRI scans of 85 smokers who puffed more than 10 cigarettes a day. The smokers were then randomly assigned to continue smoking their brand or to smoke low-nicotine cigarettes, along with nicotine replacement therapy, for 30 days. All of the people in the study were then told to stop smoking and given nicotine replacement for 10 weeks.

MORE The Best Way to Quit Smoking Isn’t E-Cigs

Those who relapsed during that time tended to have lower activity in the insula, particularly in the connections between the insula and other motor areas that translate cravings into action, while those who successfully kicked the habit showed more robust activity in this brain region. The pattern remained strong despite how many cigarettes the smokers smoked.

“We’ve known for a while that some people seem to be able to quit and other people can’t,” says McClernon. “This gives us a better sense of what neural mechanisms might underlie those differences.”

The results suggest that it might be possible to identify people who may have a harder time quitting—a quick MRI scan of their brains would reveal how much activity they have in their insula—and provide them with more support in their attempts to quit. “Some smokers might benefit from more intensive, longer duration or even different types of interventions to stop smoking,” says McClernon. “They might need a higher, different level of care to help them make it through.”

But how much this system can be manipulated to help smokers quit isn’t clear yet. Previous studies show how potentially complicated the insula’s connections may be—smoking patients who have strokes and damage to the insula suddenly lose their desire to smoke and quit almost cold turkey. McClernon believes that the richer connections may not only promote interactions between cravings and behavior, but also enhance the connections that can inhibit or suppress those urges as well. Having a more intense communication in the insula may help strengthen the ability to quiet urges and inhibit the desire to smoke, despite cues and the urge to light up.

MORE Taking Medication May Make It Easier to Quit Smoking

But even if you’re not blessed with a brain that’s wired to make quitting easy, you still have options. In another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists studied one of the oldest and most reliable ways to motivate people: money. In that trial, Dr. Scott Halpern from the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues assigned 2,538 employees of CVS Caremark to one of five different smoking cessation programs. All received free access to nicotine replacement and behavioral therapy, and some were also assigned to an individual reward program in which they could earn up to $800 if they remained abstinent at six months. Another group was assigned another individual deposit program which was similar, except they had to pay $150 to participate, which they got back if they remained abstinent. Others were assigned to group versions of the reward and deposit programs so that what they received depended on how many in their group quit successfully.

Not shockingly, more people who were assigned to the reward program (90%) agreed to participate than people who were assigned to the deposit strategy (14%), likely because most people weren’t wiling to put their own money on the line. But when Halpern looked more closely at those who did enroll, the smokers in the deposit programs were twice as likely to be abstinent at six months than those in the reward group and five times as likely to be smoke-free than those who received only free counseling and nicotine replacement.

MORE Paying People Could Help Them Quit Smoking

That’s not entirely surprising, says Halpern, since having some of their own money at risk provided more motivation for the smokers to quit. When it comes to incentivizing smoking cessation, “adding a bit of stick is better than having just a pure carrot,” he says.

Finding the perfect balance of stick and carrot, however, may be more challenging. Halpern believes that from the perspective of an employer, insurer or government, offering even higher rewards than the $800 in the study and lowering the deposit slightly might still provide benefits to all parties. Smokers cost an average of $4,000 to $6,000 more each year in health services than non-smokers, he says, so offering even as much as $5,000 can still result in cost savings for employers, many of whom are now dangling financial incentives in front of their smoking employees to motivate them to quit.

How the financial carrot is proffered is also important, says Halpern. Now, most employers or insurers reward quitting in more hidden ways, with bonuses in direct deposit accounts or with lower premiums. While helpful, these aren’t as tangible to people, and humans respond better to instant gratification. “They’re rewarding people in ways that are essentially blind to the way human psychology works,” he says. “The fact that the benefits occur in the future make them a whole lot less influential than if people were handed money more quickly. Our work suggests that in addition to thinking about the size of the incentive, it’s fundamentally important to think about how to deliver that money.”

Another factor that can make financial incentives more powerful is to make the experience more enjoyable, either by introducing some competition in a group setting or encouraging smokers along the way. In the study, smokers in the group programs were not any more successful than those in the individual regimes, but that may be because the employees didn’t know each other. Grouping colleagues in the same office might have more of an effect, says Halpern. Either way, he says, incorporating such incentives to help more people quit smoking is “really a win-win.”

Read next: The Best Way to Quit Smoking Isn’t E-Cigs

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Diet Is Better for Your Brain Than Low-Fat

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Simply adding more olive oil and nuts to your diet may help prevent memory problems and loss of cognitive skills that come with old age

You’ve heard a million times that the modern Mediterranean diet is good for you. Now there’s stronger evidence the diet may be good for your brain, too.

In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Dr. Emilio Ros from the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain and his colleagues conducted a study of 447 men and women aged 55 to 80 years to see whether changing their diet could affect their performance on cognitive tests. The volunteers were healthy but at higher risk of developing heart-related problems; some smoked or had hypertension, for instance, others had a family history of heart issues. Everyone in the study was randomly assigned to eat, for about four years, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 1 liter of extra virgin olive oil a week, a Mediterranean diet enhanced with 30 grams of nuts a day, or a low-fat diet. The researchers performed a series of brain functioning tests on the participants at the start of the study and then at the end of the study.

MORE: Here’s Another Reason to Try the Mediterranean Diet

Both Mediterranean diet groups showed improvements compared to the low-fat diet group; those consuming more olive oil showed better memory scores at the end of the study while those eating more nuts showed improvements in executive function skills. The low-fat diet group, on the other hand, showed declines in many of the cognitive measures.

“It’s never too late to change your dietary patterns to improve your health,” says Ros. “This surprised even myself.” The results, he says, are especially encouraging since the people in the study were at higher risk of developing cognitive problems because of their heart-related risk factors, which can also impair cognitive function by increasing risk of stroke and compromising blood flow to the brain. “If you intervene with a healthy dietary pattern in people who are at risk of cognitive failure, even in people who still haven’t had any memory complaints or loss of cognitive function, you can prevent cognitive deterioration,” he says.

MORE: This Diet Has Been Linked to a Longer Life—Again

The findings support a growing body of evidence that connects the Mediterranean diet, which is high in antioxidant-rich foods like rich vegetables and fats, and improved brain function. Because researchers now believe that the brain is damaged by free radicals produced by stress, a diet that is rich in antioxidants may help to counter that harm. A previous study involving the same group of participants found similar brain benefits of olive oil and nuts, but that trial did not follow volunteers over time to measure the change associated with the dietary change.

MORE: Mediterranean Diet Better Than Low-Fat Diet in Keeping Aging Brains Sharp

While these results are promising, Ros says that more work is needed to confirm them; the current study is relatively small and did not find, for example, a strong correlation between the Mediterranean diet and the rate of mild cognitive impairment, a measure of cognitive decline that often precedes conditions like Alzheimer’s. “I think these results contribute to our understanding of healthy aging,” he says. “With a change in lifestyle as simple making some healthy choices in your food, it can make a difference.”

TIME medicine

How Concussions Can Lead to Poor Grades

Head injuries can have long lasting effects, not just on the field but in the classroom too

When it comes to concussions, the biggest question, especially on the minds of parents of student-athletes, is whether and when their child should get back in the game. But researchers at the Children’s National Health System say that there’s potentially bigger question that parents and educators aren’t asking: how concussions affect children’s performance in the classroom.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, Danielle Ransom, a postdoctoral fellow in neuropsychology, and her colleagues found that children who had concussions may experience more problems concentrating, keeping up and paying attention in school. The symptoms are worse for students who have recently been injured, but remained significant even for those who had recovered.

MORE: Longer Rest After Concussions Might Not Be Good, Study Says

“My colleagues and I have been hearing for years that kids with concussions have problems in school, but there was no evidence to show what the problems are, and how frequently they are occurring,” she says.

So she focused on 349 students ages 5 to 18 years old who had all been diagnosed with concussion. Some were still recovering, and experiencing symptoms, while others were no longer feeling any effects from their injury. Of the students who were still recovering, 88% reported more than one symptom including headaches, fatigue, difficulty understanding lessons or problems concentrating. And 77% said they had more trouble taking notes and spent more time completing homework assignments.

MORE: A New Blood Test to Diagnose Concussions on The Field

Students who experienced more-severe head injuries were also more likely to have the most trouble in school. But Ransom admits that diagnosing the severity of concussions is still a challenge. “At this point we really don’t have tools to clinically say, this is what you can expect in your kid’s recovery,” she says.

Still the results highlight the need to pay attention to the extra support that children with concussions need in order to recover. That may include, at least in the first days back from a head injury, a shorter school day, since students may feel more tired and overwhelmed by a full day, and even breaks throughout the day so they can rest when they feel headaches or symptoms occurring.

“Instead of trying to get the kid back to school doing things 100% as they usually would, we need to allow the symptoms to ebb and flow in a more natural way,” says Ransom. “Kids should be paying attention to their bodies, and teachers need to be attuned to their symptoms.”

MORE: Football Players Have More Concussions Than Are Diagnosed, Study Suggests

Such strategies could not only help to ease the transition back to school, and but also potentially lessen the effects of the concussion, says Ransom. There is evidence that children who push themselves to return too quickly to their normal workload can slow recovery and even make symptoms worse.

Unfortunately, she says, there is no magic threshold for when students can handle working at their full capacity; it varies with each child and with the injury. But recognizing that concussions can affect how children do in school could lead to better ways of helping them to return to their normal workload sooner. “We really think the findings in our study highlight the importance of targeting specific problems, and can ease the transition back for kids,” says Ransom.

TIME medicine

Exclusive: Meet the World’s First Baby Born With an Assist from Stem Cells

This newborn is the first baby in the world born using a breakthrough IVF treatment

Doctors in Canada have begun a new chapter in medical history, delivering the first in a wave of babies expected to be born this summer through a technique that some experts think can dramatically improve the success rate of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Now 22 days old, Zain Rajani was born through a new method that relies on the discovery that women have, in their own ovaries, a possible solution to infertility caused by poor egg quality. Pristine stem cells of healthy, yet-to-be developed eggs that can help make a woman’s older eggs act young again. Unlike other kinds of stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any kind of cell in the body, including cancerous ones, these precursor cells can only form eggs.

In May 2014, Zain’s mother, Natasha Rajani, now 34, had a small sliver of her ovarian tissue removed in a quick laproscopic procedure at First Steps Fertility in Toronto, Canada, where she lives. Scientists from OvaScience, the fertility company that is providing Augment, then identified and removed the egg stem cells and purified them to extract their mitochondria.

Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, a molecular battery that energizes everything a cell does. Adding the mitochondria from these egg precursor cells to Natasha’s poor-quality eggs and her husband Omar’s sperm dramatically improved their IVF results. In the Rajanis’ first traditional-IVF attempt, Natasha produced 15 eggs, but only four were fertilized—just one of those matured to the point were Natasha’s doctor felt comfortable transferring it. “I knew it wasn’t the best-quality embryo, but it was what she had,” says. Dr. Marjorie Dixon, of First Steps Fertility.

With Augment, the Rajanis produced four embryos, two of which have been frozen should the couple decide to have more children. Another one became baby Zain.

It’s not currently available in the U.S., since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers the process of introducing mitochondria a form of gene therapy, which it regulates. So far, some three dozen women in four countries have tried the technique, and eight are currently pregnant. All of the women have had at least one unsuccessful cycle of IVF; some have had as many as seven.

“We could be on the cusp of something incredibly important,” says Dr. Owen Davis, president of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “Something that is really going to pan out to be revolutionary.”

The Next Big Thing in IVF

The technique is indeed poised to usher in the next big advance in IVF; since the first baby, Louise Brown, was born using the process in 1978, the procedure has changed little. Scientists have made incremental advances in fine-tuning the procedure, but taken together, these improvements have nudged pregnancy rates upward by only a percent or two over the course of 35 years. As it stands, the IVF success rate is about 38% for women in their late 30s and 18% for those in their early 40s. Natasha’s first IVF cycle differed little from the one that produced Brown more than 35 years ago.

Augment emerged from a breakthrough made in 2004 by biologist Jonathan Tilly, then at Harvard Medical School and now chair of biology at Northeastern University. He found that cells scraped from the outer surface of the ovary contain the precursor cells that can provide a more reliable source of energy to older eggs. “The technique addresses a void now in IVF,” says Tilly. “No cell culture can circumvent poor egg quality or an egg that is simply too tired to execute what it is capable of doing. We are taking patients with a zero percent pregnancy rate, patients who have failed IVF because of poor egg quality, and getting them pregnant.”

The Rajanis had tried for four years to get pregnant, turning to fertility drugs, intrauterine insemination, and a naturopath before trying their first attempt at IVF. Natasha became pregnant once, but miscarried a few weeks later. “I tried to remain positive, thinking there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that a baby will be there at the end,” she says of all the misses.

What finally made the difference wasthe population of her own egg stem cells. What makes these cells so enticing to scientists is that they come from the mother herself. Mitochondria contain their own DNA, and in a controversial decision the U.K. government recently approved so-called “three-person babies,” where mitochondrial DNA from a donor is introduced into the egg of a woman with mitochondrial disease. When the egg is then fertilized and results in a live birth, it can raise ethical questions, biological concerns and conflicts about parenthood.

With Augment, the cells used—and their mitochondrial genes—are from the mother’s own ovaries. Still, the FDA requested more studies on the effect of adding mitochondria, even from the mother who provides the egg, to the IVF process. OvaScience plans to conduct 1000 cycles using Augment this year, and generate more data that will help bring the procedure to the U.S.

Because the procedure is so new, some reproductive science experts are skeptical. What’s lacking, they say, is convincing evidence comparing pregnancy rates of women undergoing Augment to those with similar infertility problems who didn’t use the technique. So far, no formal clinical trials have been conducted; the only data on the procedure comes from recent presentations by Dr. Robert Casper of University of Toronto and Dr. Kutluk Oktay from Gen-ART IVF in Ankara, Turkey, both of whom are advisors to OvaScience.

“We’re not yet sure the scientific model has proven what the outcomes would be if you use the mitochondria of a younger egg, or from an egg stem cell,” says Davis of ASRM. “It’s a fascinating concept but we just haven’t seen the studies yet.”

In the world of infertility, however, such data are historically hard to come by. A lack of regulation of most reproductive technologies—the ones that don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA as either drugs, devices or gene therapy—and the dominance of business-minded scientists has rushed new methods to clinics, often before their effectiveness has been fully proven.

Tilly counters doubters with evidence from other species that these cells can do what OvaScience has said they can. Egg precursor cells extracted from ovarian tissue from rats, mice, monkeys, pigs and women, for instance, have developed into immature eggs and, in the case of rats and mice, those eggs have mature and produced viable offspring. “Mitochondria from egg precursors rejuvenate the egg to bring it back to a high quality state,” says Tilly.

That appears to be the case with the Rajanis, and time will tell whether that ends up holding true for the other women trying Augment, too. “We see Zain as a symbol of hope for all couples struggling with infertility,” says Natasha. “While the process is long, emotional and physically draining, there is light at the end of the tunnel—and that light for us is Zain.”

For more on Zain and this new approach for infertility, see the May 18, 2015, issue of TIME.

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