But can technology do anything to help a woman in her peak productive years preserve her fertility? Researchers have been working for two decades to perfect a method of freezing eggs for later use but have had little success, says reproductive endocrinologist David Adamson, MD. The problem -- freezing affects the chromosomes of the eggs.
"The probability of success with frozen eggs is so low that it is not considered clinically applicable technology at this time," he says. "I think we may see some improvement in success at some point, but even women who are now in their early 20s cannot count on this technology being available for them. Science may not solve this problem for a long time."
Researchers are also looking at freezing ovaries to prevent aging. Though the process is still experimental, women can now have an ovary surgically removed, sliced, and frozen, with the hope that it will one day be reimplanted and begin producing eggs. The procedure has been used with some success in sheep, but to date, no ovary slices have been reimplanted in humans.
While a "cure" for age-related infertility may not be imminent, medical science may be closer to pinpointing the age when a woman's fertility will begin to decline, using information in her genes.
Researchers in the Netherlands recently reported that the age at which a woman reaches menopause is largely genetically determined. Identifying the genes responsible for menopause should also help identify the ages at which a woman becomes subfertile and infertile.
"I do see a day when women in their 20s will be able to put their fertility on hold, but we are definitely not there yet," Adamson says. "We just haven't had any big breakthroughs, and we are back today trying the things we tried 15 years ago."