Women could delay the menopause for up to 20 years according to a UK clinic offering the procedure commercially.
'This has the potential to be of significant benefit to any woman who may want to delay the menopause for any reason, or those women who would have taken hormone replacement therapy, and there are lots of benefits around that,' Dr Simon Fishel, who founded the company that is offering the procedure, told the Guardian.
The treatment, offered by company ProFam in Birmingham, involves surgically removing a section of a woman's ovaries. This is then cryopreserved until the woman reaches the menopause, when it is implanted back into the body. The implanted tissue naturally produces and releases hormones from these younger ovaries, potentially holding off symptoms of the menopause.
This technique is already used to preserve fertility in women undergoing cancer treatment, but this is the first time it has been offered to healthy women with the aim of prolonging the menopause.
Nine women in the UK, aged between 22 and 36, have had the procedure so far, which is being offered privately to women up to 40 years old. According to Dr Fishel, it 'could delay menopause for five, 10, or 20 years and be used whenever she's ready to use it'.
Some experts have raised concerns about the claims. Dr Melanie Davies, Chair of Fertility Preservation UK, said:
'Ovarian tissue freezing has a role for preserving fertility in patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy where there is insufficient time, or they are too young, for ovarian stimulation for egg/embryo freezing. But ovarian tissue is NOT a "preferred method" of fertility preservation, and it has no proven benefit for healthy women in "delaying the menopause".
'Physiological HRT is highly effective, simple and very safe for most women. In contrast this new approach involves undergoing at least two operations, to remove and regraft ovarian tissue, with no guarantee of long-term benefit. There is no evidence to support the claims made here about preventing osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease let alone depression and sexual problems.'
Sarah Norcross, director of the charity Progress Educational Trust (which publishes BioNews) agreed. 'More research is needed into the safety of increasing the number of fertile years available to women, and in the meantime women should be cautious about paying for this experimental treatment.'