The Fertility Show, Manchester Central, 23-24 March 2019
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Baby born from ovarian tissue frozen during childhood

15 June 2015
Appeared in BioNews 806

A woman who has received a transplant of ovarian tissue stored when she was a child has given birth. It is believed to be the first time ovarian tissue taken from young girl has led to a successful pregnancy.

'This is an important breakthrough in the field because children are the patients who are most likely to benefit from the procedure in the future,' said Dr Isabelle Demeestere, a gynaecologist at Erasme Hospital in Brussels and lead author of the paper that reported the birth. 'When they are diagnosed with diseases that require treatment that can destroy ovarian function, freezing ovarian tissue is the only available option for preserving their fertility.' 

It is common for women facing chemotherapy to have their eggs frozen to preserve fertility, but in children whose eggs have not yet matured this is not an option.

Frozen ovarian tissue taken from adult patients has previously been used to restore fertility, so far resulting in the birth of 40 babies. However, there was doubt over whether the procedure would work using tissue from pre-pubescent children, whose reproductive organs have not fully matured.

In this case, the woman, who has remained anonymous, was diagnosed with sickle-cell anaemia when she was five years old. She required a bone marrow transplant at the age of 13 but needed chemotherapy to disable her immune system and prevent her body rejecting the transplanted tissue.

Chemotherapy treatment can affect a patient's fertility, so doctors removed her right ovary and cryopreserved fragments of the tissue. At the time she had started showing signs of puberty but had not yet started her periods. Two years after the treatment her remaining ovary ceased to function.

A decade later, the woman wished to become pregnant and doctors at Erasme Hospital grafted four fragments of ovarian tissue onto her non-functioning left ovary, with further fragments grafted onto other sites in her abdomen. The tissue induced a hormonal response, causing her to begin menstruation after five months, and she conceived naturally two years later at the age of 27.

Dr Demeestere warned that more research is necessary: 'This procedure requires further investigation in very young pre-pubertal girls, as our patient had already started puberty even though she had not started menstruating.'

Commenting on the news, Professor Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, told the BBC: 'One would anticipate that young ovaries should have lots of eggs in them. The concern was whether those eggs might develop to maturity if the ovarian tissue was taken at such a young age and frozen and then re-implanted. So, this is proof of that concept. It's very important information.'

The woman's child, a healthy baby boy weighing 6.9lbs, was born in November 2014, and doctors say it might be possible for her to have more children if she wishes to.

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