A team of scientists from Leeds and Manchester have shown that ovarian transplants may be successful in preserving the fertility of women who have recovered from cancer. Previously, these women faced becoming infertile because cancer treatments using drugs or radiation could damage their ovaries.
The team, led by Dr Samuel Kim, took ovarian tissue from 18 women with lymphoma, and grafted it into a strain of mice that did not have working immune systems. Tissue from the lymph nodes of the women was grafted into another group of the mice as a control. It was found that the mice that received the ovarian tissue did not develop cancer, while all those that received the lymph tissue did.
The research, which is published in the journal Human Reproduction, indicates that preserving ovarian tissue from cancer patients before treatment, and storing this for later transplant is safe, because the ovarian tissue did not cause cancer to develop. Dr Kim warned, however, that the experiment should not be taken as a guarantee of absolute safety as the naturally short lifespan of the mice prevented long-term follow-ups.
Meanwhile, another research project has shown that ovarian tissue transplanted into the arm of women before cancer treatment may prevent premature menopause in younger women and perhaps also preserve fertility. Dr Kutluk Oktay and colleagues from Cornell University, US, transplanted ovarian tissue to the arms of two women, one with cervical cancer and the other with benign ovarian cysts.
Hormone production continued in both of the women, although the cancer sufferer did not continue to ovulate naturally but did so after the help of drugs. The other woman produced eggs and underwent menstruation six months after the transplant. The researchers now hope to discover whether this technique in tandem with IVF might help to preserve fertility in women needing treatment for cancer and other conditions.