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Pioneering ovarian tissue graft helps cancer survivor become pregnant

9 September 2013
Appeared in BioNews 721

A woman in Australia has become pregnant with her own eggs following an ovarian tissue transplant seven years after her ovaries were removed during cancer treatment.

In a world first, the woman's ovarian tissue, which had been cryopreserved, was grafted onto her abdominal wall where it began to produce eggs. The eggs were then removed, fertilised, and transplanted back into her uterus.

'The tissue was put back in the front wall of her abdomen, so that means it's under the skin and the muscle but not inside the abdomen', said Dr Kate Stern, the patient's fertility specialist who worked as part of a team at Melbourne IVF and The Royal Women's Hospital in Victoria.

'We wanted to see if this might help her get pregnant. Then we gave her some very gentle hormone stimulation – not the full-on IVF', Dr Stern added.

The pregnancy indicates that with the right blood supply and stimulating hormones, ovarian tissue can still produce eggs even when it is grafted away from its original position in the pelvis, known as orthotopic transplantation.

Professor Gab Kovacs of Monash IVF said he would recommend storing ovarian tissue to women with conditions such as ovarian cancer, where the treatment could make them infertile. 'It makes me quite convinced that the optimal way of preserving fertility will be taking ovarian tissue', he told The Sunday Morning Herald.

The Royal Women's Hospital is now developing an initiative to collect and freeze ovarian samples from young woman that might become infertile due to cancer treatment.

It is hoped that the new procedure can be offered to patients with severe pelvic disease, where the ovarian tissue cannot be put back into the pelvis. 'We can now offer these patients a realistic chance of getting pregnant', Dr Stern told The Sunday Morning Herald.

The patient, known as Vali, who is pregnant with twins, is now the first person in the world to become pregnant with eggs produced from ovarian tissue transplanted into her abdomen. She told ABC News that she was lucky to 'have the opportunity to freeze tissue [in the] hope that someday, something would be possible'.

There have been 29 births worldwide from stored ovarian tissue that was later transplanted back into or near to the original position, but the success rate is low.

Australian team creates IVF history with ovarian tissue transplant
Sydney Morning Herald |  2 September 2013
Medical breakthrough gives cancer survivors hope of pregnancy
ABC News |  3 September 2013
Melbourne IVF achieves world’s first pregnancy from ovarian tissue grafted outside woman’s pelvis
Melbourne IVF (press release) |  2 September 2013
World first as woman gets pregnant seven years after ovaries removed
The Guardian |  3 September 2013
21 March 2016 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
A 23-year-old woman may soon become become pregnant after receiving an implant of an ovary that had been frozen since she was eight years old...
12 October 2015 - by Dr Rachel Montgomery 
A Danish study has reported that ovarian tissue transplants appear to be safe and can restore fertility in women who have undergone treatment for cancer, with around one in three procedures in young women leading to live births....
3 December 2012 - by Dr Lucy Spain 
A former cancer patient has become the first woman in Australia to become pregnant following the pioneering procedure of ovarian tissue transplantation...
23 April 2012 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
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....
1 March 2010 - by Ruth Pidsley 
A Danish woman has become the first in the world to give birth for a second time following an ovarian transplant...
17 November 2008 - by Adam Fletcher 
A 39-year old woman has become the first to give birth following a whole ovary transplant. Susanne Butscher received an intact ovary from her fertile twin sister last year, during a landmark operation carried out by Dr Sherman Silber of the Infertility Centre of St Louis...
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