A former cancer patient has become the first woman in Australia to become pregnant following the pioneering procedure of ovarian tissue transplantation.
The 43-year-old woman had ovarian tissue removed and frozen before having treatment for breast cancer in 2005. The tissue was implanted back into the woman by doctors at Monash IVF, allowing her to naturally ovulate and conceive.
'She's over the moon, but still very shocked that it has actually happened. I think it's a bit surreal', Dr Lynn Burmeister, clinical director at Monash IVF, told the Herald Sun. 'She thought she'd die from breast cancer at age 37, she met a guy at 43 and now we've used her 37-year-old eggs to get her pregnant'.
Worldwide, this was the twentieth reported pregnancy using the procedure. Talking to The Australian, Professor Gab Kovacs who performed the procedure stated: 'This could be the way to go for women who want to preserve their fertility after cancer'. However he conceded more research on the technique was needed: 'Right now we don't know what the success rate for the procedure is but it has great potential'.
The procedure is less invasive than current therapies, requiring only keyhole surgery as opposed to a large abdominal incision, and also does not involve the use of hormones. In addition, the cost of ovarian tissue transplantation is less than some other fertility treatments available.
Professor Kovacs highlighted the simplicity of the technique, talking to the Sydney Morning Herald: 'The beauty of this technology is that a woman can see a doctor one day and have the tissue removed the next - there's no delay. It's simple and any gynaecologist can do it'.
Concerns have been raised over the wider social use of the procedure, potentially allowing healthy women to preserve their fertility beyond menopause.
Dr Lyndon Hale, medical director of Monash IVF, told the Sydney Morning Herald: 'It's possible but I wouldn't be recommending it to my daughters. If we're doing it for cancer we're doing it for a crisis, an identified need, whereas the rest of it is probably trying to fandangle nature too much. We think there is a natural time to have babies and as you get older you get other medical conditions. It becomes an unsafe thing to do'.
Taking ovarian tissue as part of this procedure may reduce the chances of a healthy woman conceiving (see BioNews 653). There is also an ethical debate over whether older women should carry children. However it is generally agreed the procedure could offer hope to patients undergoing cancer treatment or at risk of premature menopause.