Women may soon be given the option of banking their ovarian tissue if a new clinic to offer the procedure opens in the UK. The technique allows women to freeze ovarian tissue containing eggs to use at a later date and could assist cancer patients and other women who hope to have children later in life.
The procedure involves removing part of an ovary, which is then stored in liquid nitrogen for possible future use. Researchers say when the ovarian tissue is thawed and re-grafted onto the patient's ovary, it could start producing eggs within a few months.
The procedure is currently only available in a few countries, including the United States, Denmark, and Belgium, and according to the Daily Mail just 19 babies have been born following use of the technique so far. Most of the women who have received the treatment have been cancer patients hoping to preserve their ovarian tissue in case it is damaged by chemotherapy.
A recent case report, published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, studying three patients in Europe and the USA who had undergone ovarian transplantation concluded it was a 'valid method of fertility preservation' and encouraged use of the technique in both clinical settings and to 'expand the reproductive and endocrine lifespan of women'. All three women maintained ovarian function for more than seven years. In total eight babies were born after the three women had a graft each.
'The majority of children derived from ovary tissue transplantation have been born following natural conception. This result strengthens the fact that transplantation to the remaining post-menopausal ovary provides a suitable environment to support follicular development and enable conception without assistance', stated the report, co-authored by Professor Claus Yding Andersen at the University of Copenhagen and other researchers in Denmark.
In addition to these three cases, the study reports the success of transplantation (multiple times in some cases) in all other women in the study centres' programmes.
The procedure to remove, store and re-implant the tissue could cost as much as £16,000, reports the Daily Mail, compared to around £5,000 for egg freezing and £4,000 for a cycle of IVF.
Dr Gedis Grudzinskas, a consultant in infertility and gynaecology, is planning to open a clinic in central London offering the procedure within the next six months. 'This technology is so much more efficient than we thought it would be. If a woman is having cancer treatment there are few options. She can freeze her eggs but the quality of this technology varies. Women in their late 20s might consider freezing their eggs until they meet Mr Right', he said.
Dr Grudzinskas is currently awaiting licence approval by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority, reports the Daily Mail.
However, there are concerns expressed by some doctors who predict that having ovarian tissue removed early in life could impair a woman's chance of having a baby. Dr Gillian Lockwood of Midland Fertility Services, said: 'In the case of cancer patients who've got nothing to lose it has great potential. But for social reasons I don't believe it should be recommended. It could cause scarring or damage to the pelvis that could make it difficult to conceive naturally'.