In a medical first, a woman has given birth to a healthy baby boy from a transplant of her own frozen ovarian tissue preserved when she was just 13-years-old. It’s a remarkable breakthrough that’s poised to benefit young people who lose their fertility because of cancer treatments.

As reported in The Telegraph, the unnamed 28-year-old woman, who suffers from sickle-cell anemia, had to have her ovary tissue surgically removed prior to chemotherapy. She was only 13-years-old at the time and had never experienced menstruation, but the doctors had the sense to cryopreserve her ovarian tissue (specifically her right ovary and dozens of tissue fragments) with the hopes that it could be used to restore her fertility in the future — which, as a new study published in Human Reproduction point out, is exactly what happened.

Advertisement

To date, at least 35 live births have been reported after the transplantation of frozen ovarian tissue in adult patients. But what makes this latest birth so unique is that it’s the first live birth following the grafting of cryopreserved ovarian tissue in a patient who was so young when the initial extraction and preservation transpired.

“This first report of successful fertility restoration after the graft of ovarian tissue cryopreserved before menarche [the first menstrual cycle] offers reassuring evidence for the feasibility of the procedure when performed during childhood,” conclude the researchers in their study. The team was led by Isabelle Demeestere, a gynaecologist from Erasme Hospital in Brussels.

The Telegraph describes how the woman’s fertility was restored:

Fifteen fragments of ovarian tissue were thawed, with four grafted on to the remaining left ovary, which was no longer functioning. Because the existing organ had atrophied, medics were unable to graft more tissue to it, so eleven further fragments were secured under the skin, and in the area around the abdomen. This triggered a hormonal response in the body, the growth of follicles containing maturing eggs, and the start of menstruation. However, the patient only became pregnant two years later — at the age of 27 — after she discovered her previous boyfriend was infertile and started a new relationship.

The baby was born back in November of 2014, and weighed in at just under 7 lbs. The doctors say the woman’s ovary function should remain stable, which should allow her to have more children should she choose.

In terms of the implications, here’s how Demeestere put it to the Telegraph:

This is an important breakthrough in the field because children are the patients who are most likely to benefit from the procedure in the future. When they are diagnosed with diseases that require treatment that can destroy ovarian function, freezing ovarian tissue is the only available option for preserving their fertility.

Check out the entire study at Human Reproduction: “Live birth after autograft of ovarian tissue cryopreserved during childhood”.


Contact the author at george@io9.com and @dvorsky. Top image of cryopreserving ovarian tissue strips by Dr. Vereczkey Atilla/cc.