This Geneticist is Gaming Infertility Treatment — and Has Tens of Thousands of Babies to Show for it
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Dr. Mandy Katz-Jaffe is a powerhouse scientist who has been helping families one embryo at a time since 2007. That is when she and her team at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) introduced Comprehensive Chromosome Screening (CCS), which tests for an abnormal number of chromosomes in embryos — a leading cause of miscarriages in women 35 or older. With CCS, doctors can ensure that only embryos with a full set of 23 chromosomes are implanted into patients during IVF treatments. The practice was quickly adopted by clinics worldwide, allowing for the birth of tens of thousands of healthy babies.
Now, the Australian-born scientific director is also leading a new lab at CCRM’s Colorado base dedicated to eradicating hereditary cancers. “These families all have stories about loved ones from every generation dying of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer,” she says. “We can eliminate the cancer mutation from their family trees forever. By testing and implanting embryos that are cancer-mutation-free, babies are born with the full potential of life.”
Starting in STEM: Dr. Katz-Jaffe admits she’s faced opposition along the way from people who told her she wouldn’t succeed in her field, but she never let that kind of negativity get her down. Instead, she looks to female role models like her grandmother, who went back to college at age 50 to earn a degree. “I come from a very strong family who taught me that
my value is independent of my gender,” she says, adding that she hopes to pass on that wisdom to her 11-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. “If I have a passion and I know that something could be achieved, I just go for it.”
Science is her canvas: “I’m not good at drawing. I’m not an artist. I let all my creativity out in the lab,” she says. “And our fertility clinic has its own genetics lab, so our process can be really patient-driven.” The expert adds that she loves splitting time between doing research and meeting with patients. “Our job is to give the information and allow patients to make decisions based on all their religious, ethical, and moral beliefs.”
Staying zen: Having patience is necessary as a researcher, but it doesn’t come easy to her. “The biggest frustration for me is that I can’t get the new technologies that have enormous potential out fast enough for our patients,” she says. “And it’s not for lack of trying!”
No shame in her game: It’s time to stop taking fertility for granted. “There’s never a question in someone’s mind like, ‘Will I be able to have a child?’ We just assume that when we’re ready, it’s gonna happen,” she notes. “We need to re-educate people — one in six couples needs medical intervention. Infertility is a disease. Once people realize that, it will no longer be taboo.”
Spreading the love: The researcher is happy to see CCS being utilized by other fertility clinics. “To know that there are healthy babies born all over the world because of what we developed here, that’s really something I am humbly very proud of.”
For more stories like this, pick up the January issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Dec. 7.