Israeli scientists are reported to have extracted, matured and frozen eggs from young girls affected by cancer. Although it is too early to tell whether they are viable, it is hoped that the frozen eggs will one day offer young cancer patients the chance to have a genetically related child.
Although childhood cancer has a relatively high cure rate - between 70 and 90 per cent - aggressive chemotherapy, which is often needed, can cause infertility later in life. Previously it was believed that it was only possible to harvest eggs from women who had undergone puberty. The new research, however, could offer hope to women who developed cancer at a young age.
The research involved removing tissue from girls as young as five and isolating the immature eggs. The eggs were then cultured to maturity in a Petri dish, until they resembled those of a 20 year old women. The team are expecting to wait several years until they discover whether the frozen eggs can lead to viable pregnancies. One of the doctors involved in the research, Dr Ariel Revel, told the Guardian: 'No eggs have yet been thawed, so we do not know whether pregnancies will result. But we are encouraged by our results so far, particularly the young ages of the patients from which we have been able to collect eggs. We are hopeful that the mature eggs can offer these girls a realistic possibility of preserving their fertility'.
The Teenage Cancer Trust and some fertility experts, have tentatively welcomed the research. Gillian Lockwood, of Midlands Fertility Services told the Telegraph: 'If it works it's good news. But this raises ethical issues, The parents will be making the decision, and it may be they are keen to have grandchildren, and I don't know if a young girl will appreciate all of the arguments.' Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics has expressed doubts about the research, she told the BBC: 'I don't think this is the first priority for five year olds. Any intervention for a child going through cancer treatment is an added burden. I feel uncomfortable about this development'.