His baby blue eyes are just gorgeous. He smiles up at his granddad and you can’t help but be touched by the sight. Wispy blonde curls frame his cute little face and his cheeks glow with a soft pink hue. He smiles with innocence and confidence. He is all of one. He is a head turner, this kid. Plain and simple.
I met this beautiful child just recently at a family gathering. I know the parents had been trying to have another child for a long time. Five years in fact. This pregnancy was the result of their 18th IVF cycle. They did everything they could think of to achieve their dream- even letting it go for a year. They looked at all the options available to them. They ate well, exercised, took supplements, had acupuncture before implantation, went to counseling and did lots of homework.
As part of this research they found some information on Natural Killer cells (NK cells). NKcells are part of the immune system and are needed to fight cancer. However, new research has linked a high level of NK cells with repeat IVF failure and recurrent miscarriage. NK cells are a type of white blood cell and form part of our immune system and it seems that abnormally high levels can have an impact on the embryo implanting in the uterus. After reading about high Natural Killer cell activity, Liz asked her IVF specialist to test her levels.
The first IVF specialist she spoke to about it pooh poohed the idea. Fortunately she found another specialist who listened and was familiar with what she was talking about. She was tested and then given immunosuppressive therapy before her next IVF cycle.
“I remember I was at Coles when I got the news that my Natural Killer cell count was high,” says Liz. She then had another IVF attempt with all the medications and injections required. This in itself was a significant commitment. “I went on a course of steroid injections for the first trimester as well as progesterone suppositories. I also had acupuncture which I had used before until the pregnancy was confirmed.” Their determination and persistence paid off. Their son is a healthy, beautiful child.
Unfortunately not everyone gets pregnant despite their very best efforts. Infertility affects about one in six couples so it is a fairly common experience. I certainly hadn’t heard about Natural Killer cells in the treatment of infertility until a few weeks ago when this inspiring couple mentioned it to me. A quick literature search doesn’t yield a lot of results but I managed to find an article published in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology in May this year by Sacks et al from Sydney. They reported a significantly higher peripheral blood NK cell activity in women with repeated IVF failure compared to controls.
Another good book “Is Your Body Baby-Friendly?” by acclaimed fertility specialist Dr Alan Beer. The book explains the role of NK cell activity in relation to infertility, and as well as listing specialists in Australia who treat the condition. This will be an interesting area of research to follow.
Getting pregnant and staying that way is something that is not so easy for some. It can be a roller coaster ride and can put a strain on relationships, finances and overall wellbeing. Infertility and recurrent miscarriage can have many causes but sometimes as health care providers we have no answers. Why aren’t a healthy, happy couple getting pregnant and staying that way? I wonder if Natural Killer cells are a part of the jigsaw? Maybe this is something you can discuss with your doctor if getting pregnant is an issue you and your partner are facing.
For both Liz and her husband it had been a long five years. They really wanted another child. They already had a beautiful daughter but somehow their family just didn’t feel complete. They were proactive and passionate in following their dream and their reward is their precious son who has brought joy to all the family and a special sparkle to his granddad’s eyes.
Image: from here