Ovar­ian tis­sue trans­plants help some women have chil­dren, say re­searchers


The big­gest study ever of women who had ovar­ian tis­sue re­moved, frozen and trans­planted sug­gests the ex­per­i­men­tal tech­nique is safe and can help about one third of them to have ba­bies.

The pro­ce­dure is in­tended for women with can­cer who wish to pre­serve their fer­til­ity, since can­cer treat­ments can harm the ovaries. Sci­en­tists typ­i­cally re­move one ovary and cut it into strips be­fore freez­ing them. Years later af­ter the woman has re­cov­ered from can­cer, doc­tors typ­i­cally graft some of the thawed-out tis­sue onto the re­main­ing ovary.

Re­searchers fol­lowed 41 women in Den­mark who un­der­went the pro­ce­dure from 2003 to 2014. Among the 32 women in the study who wanted chil­dren, 10 later got preg­nant and gave birth. Glob­ally, more than 36 ba­bies have been born to women who had ovary trans­plants, with 14 in Den­mark.

Un­like most coun­tries, Den­mark of­fers the treat­ment free to all women who qual­ify. The tech­nique is not part of rou­tine can­cer care in Bri­tain, but is avail­able at some clin­ics there and in Europe, in­clud­ing Bel­gium and Ger­many.

“Once we trans­plant the ovar­ian tis­sue, it takes about four to five months for the ovary to get restarted,” said Dr. Claus Yd­ing An­der­sen, the study’s se­nior au­thor. The pa­per was pub­lished online Wed­nes­day in the jour­nal, Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion.

In some cases, the trans­planted tis­sue lasted for up to 10 years, much longer than sci­en­tists had pre­dicted.

The ovar­ian tis­sue that kept work­ing so long prob­a­bly had more eggs to be­gin with, said Mark Fen­wick, a lec­turer in re­pro­duc­tive and de­vel­op­men­tal medicine at Sheffield Univer­sity. He said moth­ers and ba­bies re­quired close mon­i­tor­ing although no po­ten­tial prob­lems linked to the tech­nique have been spot­ted so far.

In the study, three women later had a can­cer re­lapse, but An­der­sen said that didn’t ap­pear to be linked to the trans­plant.

“This tech­nique still needs to be fur­ther val­i­dated, but the re­sults are re­as­sur­ing,” said Dr. Ya­coub Kha­laf, di­rec­tor of the As­sisted Conception Unit at Guy’s Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don, who is also work­ing to re­fine the pro­ce­dure. “It of­fers hope to peo­ple who have no other al­ter­na­tive.”

Dr. Jane Stewart of the Bri­tish Fer­til­ity So­ci­ety said the tech­nique wouldn’t be suit­able for ev­ery­one and that doc­tors need to be care­ful about se­lect­ing which pa­tients to treat. At the mo­ment, women pre­par­ing for can­cer treat­ment might have eggs or em­bryos frozen for later use.

“I think pa­tients would def­i­nitely want (the op­tion of trans­planted ovar­ian tis­sue) and there is a lot of fu­ture po­ten­tial, but this isn’t ready to be rolled out to­mor­row,” she said.

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