The first woman in the world to become pregnant following a transplant of her own frozen, thawed ovarian tissue has given birth to a healthy baby girl. In 1997, Ouarda Touirat, now aged 32, had parts of her ovaries removed before beginning treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma that would leave her infertile. In 2003, once she was free of the cancer, Belgian doctors reimplanted some of this tissue close to Ouarda's remaining ovaries. News of the pregnancy first emerged at the annual European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) meeting, held in Berlin earlier this year. The baby, called Tamara, was delivered at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc in Brussels on 23 September.
Scientists have been working for many years to achieve a pregnancy using stored ovarian tissue. Previous attempts, including those made by Claus Yding Anderson and colleagues from the University of Copenhagen, involved the removal of eggs from the transplanted tissue, followed by IVF. At the ESHRE meeting, Anderson reported that he had succeeded in creating a two-celled embryo, but it had failed to implant when transferred back to the woman's womb. In October 2003, the first primate birth following transfer of frozen-thawed ovarian tissue - a rhesus macaque monkey - was announced. At the time it was hoped that the technique would soon lead to a human birth.
The Belgian team replaced the frozen-thawed ovarian tissue close to the remaining, non-functioning ovaries, in the hope of restoring Ouadra's natural fertility. Five months after the transplant, the ovary tissue appeared to be producing hormones, and over the next four months Ouadra ovulated regularly. Eleven months after the transplant operation, a pregnancy test confirmed that Ouarda had conceived naturally. Team leader Jacques Donnez said: 'Our findings open new perspectives for young cancer patients facing premature ovarian failure. Ovarian tissue cryopreservation should be an option offered to all young women diagnosed with cancer'. The Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc doctors say they have frozen ovarian tissue from another 146 cancer patients, and have so far reimplanted tissue in two of them.
News of the birth appeared in an online Lancet article, ahead of print publication. In it, the scientists write that they believe the egg which gave rise to the pregnancy came from the transplanted tissue, and not from the remaining damaged ovaries. But US fertility expert Kutluk Otkay questions the claim, reports Nature News, saying that he believes the pregnancy could have resulted if one of the woman's ovaries survived the chemotherapy and produced eggs on its own. However, other scientists welcomed the news: 'I've always believed that this procedure would work in patients,' said reproductive biologist Roger Gosden of the Weill Medical College at Cornell University, adding, 'It was a matter of time until somebody was successful in bringing a full-term baby...this really vindicates 10 years of work in this field'.