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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
World first for UK ovary transplant
Frozen tissue
Frozen ovarian tissue was reimplanted
Scientists looking for ways to restore fertility to women after cancer treatment have made a significant breakthrough.

They transplanted back slices of ovary tissue which had been frozen prior to a patient's chemotherapy.

The ovary graft appeared to work for two months, producing normal menstruation - the first time this has been achieved in humans.

Although it then ceased to function, experts believe it could start again at any time.


I feel this offers hope to female cancer sufferers, albeit a small number at present

Patient, 36, who received graft
Previous ovary grafts into humans have either failed completely or only responded to high doses of hormones to kick start them.

However, as the technology becomes more successful, it could become the centre of an ethical storm.

The 36-year-old patient, who has not been named, took part in the study after successful chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Sections of her ovarian tissue were thawed, then reimplanted in their original location.

Hormones produced

To the delight of doctors, they started working on their own, producing hormones and one menstrual cycle.

However, the woman did not achieve ovulation - the release of an egg - and the tissue stopped functioning after this period.

However, she said: "I feel this offers hope to female cancer sufferers, albeit a small number at present.


Our work has demonstrated that ovarian tissue frozen and reimplanted back to its natural site in the body several years later can restore a woman's natural cycle

Dr Brian Lieberman, St Mary's Hospital, Manchester
"Regaining natural hormone production is not just a question of fertility, it is my sense of self as a woman, my femininity, my sexuality."

Professor John Radford, from the Christie Hospital in Manchester, which is pioneering ovary grafting, said the world first advance was a "milestone".

Chemotherapy drug
Chemotherapy can make women infertile
He said: "Throughout continuing research we hope, in the future, to improve the lives of thousands of young cancer patients by reversing an early menopause and restoring fertility so that they can get pregnant naturally."

Dr Brian Lieberman, who helped carry out the surgery to reimplant the tissue at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, said: "Our work has demonstrated that ovarian tissue frozen and reimplanted back to its natural site in the body several years later can restore a woman's natural cycle.

"We hope that this technique will have a major impact on the quality of life of young cancer patients, whether or not they plan to have a family."

More await procedure

The two hospitals have recruited a total of 14 patients to undergo the same procedure. A second woman has had the strips of ovarian tissue reimplanted, and the team is waiting to see if it works.

While the idea of using preserved ovarian tissue to restore fertility - or even simply hormone production - to women after cancer or other treatment, there are other, more controversial potential applications which may tax ethicists.

In theory, once the technique is refined, women could opt to preserve ovarian tissue while young in order to reimplant much later in life and have children well beyond normal childbearing age.

Stored ovarian tissue could be used to delay the onset of menopause.

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See also:

23 Sep 99 | Medical notes
Ovary grafting
27 Feb 01 | Health
Human ovaries 'grown in mice'
29 Jun 00 | Health
Pill project to delay menopause
26 Jun 00 | Health
Mouse muscle nurses human eggs
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