New technique restores fertility in cancer patients

Doctors have grown the world's first embryo from frozen human ovary tissue, raising the strongest hopes yet that the technique could be used to restore fertility in cancer patients whose treatment would otherwise damage the ovaries irreparably.

The patient was aged 30 and newly diagnosed with breast cancer when the tissue from the ovary was frozen, and 36 when it was replaced into her abdomen. Within three months the transplanted tissue began producing eggs again. An egg was harvested after stimulation with IVF drugs and mixed with her partner's sperm to create the embryo, said Kutluk Oktay in the medical journal The Lancet.

Although the embryo did not result in pregnancy, its creation represents a big step in the quest to refine the technique, which has previously been successful only in animals, informs &to=' target=_blank>

Women who experience premature menopause after chemotherapy for cancer will be able to have babies one day, it seems. The storing and transplanting of ovaries or ovarian tissue has been an aim of fertility researchers for these women.

According to an online paper, Oktay and teams from the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility of New York Presbyterian hospital and Weill Cornell medical centre say that they unfroze some tissue taken from a 30-year-old woman before chemotherapy, and transplanted it under the skin of her abdomen.

Three months later the tissue started to produce egg follicles. They retrieved 20 eggs. 8 were suitable for fertilisation with the sperm of her husband. Of those eight, one fertilized egg was allowed to develop to a four-cell-stage embryo and placed in the womb, reports &to=' target=_blank>

"Unfortunately, not a lot of women know there are options," said Dr. Seang Lin Tan, director of the McGill Reproductive Centre and the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.

Dr. Tan said that with ever-increasing numbers of children and young adults being diagnosed with cancer, coupled with much better survival rates, the issue of cancer survivors being able to have children is an important one, and infertility can no longer be viewed as an unavoidable side effect of treatment.

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