San Antonio, Oct. 13: Scientists have carried out the first successful ovary transplant in a monkey, bringing closer the day when doctors can “cure” the menopause and allow women to have babies in their 50s and 60s.
Researchers successfully implanted egg-producing tissue into an infertile rhesus monkey and then used one of the resulting eggs to create a healthy test-tube baby. As well as treating the menopause, ovary transplants offer hope to women with cancer whose fertility is threatened by chemotherapy. They might also become a safer alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
Details of the experiment will be presented today at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in San Antonio, Texas.
Dr David Lee, who led the research, said it was the first primate pregnancy from transplanted ovarian tissue. “This procedure has utility for serving the reproductive potential of cancer survivors and treating menopause, and suggests that ovarian tissue banking in humans may be feasible,” said Lee, of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre.
Ovary transplants have led to pregnancies in mice and sheep but have had limited success in women. The immediate goal of the research is to help young women diagnosed with cancer. The Oregon researchers believe women could one day have pieces of ovary removed and frozen, then have them returned to their bodies once treatment is finished.
The American scientists removed the ovaries from seven rhesus monkeys and transplanted slices of the tissue to different sites in their bodies, including arms, abdomen and kidneys. After transplant, the ovaries behaved normally, triggering a rise in the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone and producing eggs. The eggs were removed and fertilised using IVF techniques. Two embryos were transplanted into surrogate mothers, one of whom gave birth last year.
Roger Gosden, a specialist in reproductive medicine at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia, said: “It’s a nice step towards applying this in humans. It’s clear there are few real options for young women and children who require sterilising treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy or removal of ovarian tissue.”
Simon Davies, chief executive of Teenage Cancer Trust, said the findings were important for young women made infertile through cancer treatment. “Any advance that will give them the opportunity in the future to be able to conceive will be welcome.”