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Dr Helen Picton
"We should be conducting transplants within the year"
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Wednesday, 25 October, 2000, 08:05 GMT
Ovary transplant IVF 'within a year'
egg magnified
Eggs can be produced from transplanted tissue
UK scientists may be less than a year away from making a woman pregnant with eggs cultivated from an ovary transplant.

It is reported that US experts are preparing to use eggs harvested from ovarian tissue implanted into a woman's arm.

But BBC News Online has learned that British teams are also closing in on this goal.

Dr Helen Picton, scientific director of the IVF centre at St James' Hospital, Leeds, said rapid progress is being made towards restoring fertility in women who previously would have had no hope of having a baby.

The first step is to take tissue take from girls' and women's ovaries before chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment for cancer which would normally render them infertile.

Frozen tissue

The tissue is frozen and later transplanted back on to the ovary or the wall of the womb or the abdominal cavity or on to some other part of the body.

"Following transplantation the woman is basically acting as a human incubator to support the growth of her own follicles and eggs," Dr Picton told BBC News Online.

These eggs, having been cultivated in the women's body, would then be collected for IVF and the resulting embryo then put back into her uterus.

"This is one option and this will probably happen in the near future, probably within the next year," Dr Picton said.

Following transplantation the woman is basically acting as a human incubator to support the growth of her own follicles and eggs

Dr Helen Picton

There are several centres in Britain which already freeze ovarian tissue from young women and girls before they undergo medical treatments for cancer.

Although not everyone wants to have their ovarian tissue frozen women can request referral to one of the centres.

Other options

But ovarian transplants are not the only option for restoring fertility to these young women.

Work in Leeds and in London is also focusing on growing ovarian tissue in culture in the laboratory.

Dr Picton describes this research as "promising" and says that in five to ten years they will be able to tell whether it is possible to grow healthy eggs this way.

"We have quite a long way to go but one thing that we have to ensure is that these procedures are absolutely safe .

"We have to make sure that we are not transplanting cancer cells back into the body and we have to make sure the eggs that we grow are normal and healthy," she pointed out.

Ovarian transplant technology continues to be tested in sheep in this country.

The British researchers have to work within the strict guidelines on assisted reproduction laid down by both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, as well as with limited funding.

US research

In the US, researchers have trialled transplants of ovarian tissue in two young women.

Tissue has been successfully transplanted on to the forearm of one 35-year-old woman who had received cancer treatment, restoring egg development and hormone production.

Dr Kutluk Oktay from Cornell University's Weill Medical College said the team had been able to retrieve eggs from the woman's arm for IVF but had not yet been able to fertilise them.

"We are still trying. It is very exciting to be able to utilise ovarian tissue in such a simple fashion," he said.

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