Isabelle Demeestere, a gynecologist and research associate at Belgium’s Erasme Hospital, said on Wednesday in Brussels that doctors restored her fertility by transplanting ovarian tissue that was removed and frozen when she was a child.
She said the woman, who was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia, when she was five and migrated to Belgium at age 11, needed a bone marrow transplant.
She said the transplant was to treat her sickle-cell condition, a procedure that requires chemotherapy first.
Demeestere said considering her future potential to have a family, the Belgian doctors decided, before starting the treatment to remove her right ovary, when she was 13 years and 11 months old and froze tissue fragments.
She said the success story pointed to a future where children with serious illnesses, such as cancer may find a way to have babies many years later.
“This is an important breakthrough in the field because children are the patients who are most likely to benefit in the future. When they are diagnosed with diseases that require treatment that can destroy ovarian function, freezing ovarian tissue is the only option for preserving their fertility,’’ she said.
Demeestere said while there have been reports of successful pregnancies after ovarian transplantation using tissue removed from adult patients, there have been none yet using tissue taken from girls before puberty.
She said the patient, who has asked to remain anonymous, had not started her periods when her ovary tissue was removed and frozen.
Demeestere said after undergoing chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant and more than a year of treatment with immuno-suppressive drugs after developing graft-versus-host disease, her remaining ovary failed at the age of 15.
She said 12 years later, after doctors successfully transplanted the thawed ovarian tissue, the patient became pregnant at age 27, and delivered a healthy boy in November 2014.
However, Demeestere, and independent experts, cautioned that the procedure’s potential success needs to be further explored for young and pre-pubertal girls.
Adam Balen, a professor at the Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine, said there had been uncertainty as to whether ovarian tissue taken from young girls, would later on be competent to produce mature, fertile eggs.
He said the latest development and success were reassuring and exciting.
Balen said there was need to bear in mind that many children who require chemotherapy are very ill, adding that the surgery to remove ovarian tissue was a huge undertaking.
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