Baby Born from Frozen Ovary Tissue Preserved Since Mother's Childhood

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Cryopreservation of ovary tissue helped restore a young woman's fertility 13 years after having been frozen. Phanie/Alamy

A young woman became a mother after doctors were able to successfully restore her fertility with her own frozen ovarian tissue that had been preserved for a decade.

The 27-year-old patient was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia at age 5, a genetic disorder that causes the body to produce abnormal red blood cells. By the time she reached 13, her condition had already seriously progressed, and her doctors determined she needed a bone marrow transplant, a surgery that is preceded by chemotherapy in order for it to be safe and effective. Chemotherapy results in permanent infertility for most patients. Prior to treatment for her disease, the patient underwent surgery to remove tissue from her left ovary, which doctors then cryopreserved in sub-zero temperatures.

A decade later, a medical team at Erasme Hospital in Brussels restored the patient's fertility with the preserved fragments of her ovarian tissue. A gynecologist grafted several fragments of the ovarian tissue onto her left ovary that otherwise was no longer viable. Additional fragments were embedded under her skin around her abdomen. The procedure triggered a hormonal response and the patient began menstruating five months after undergoing the procedure. She became pregnant without further help from her doctors more than two years after the grafting took place, and delivered a healthy boy in November 2014. She also has the option of having more children if she chooses.

The case study was published online this week in the journal Human Reproduction. The researchers say that at least 35 live births have occurred as a result of transplantation of cryopreserved ovarian tissue in adult patients. However, this is the first time doctors were able to accomplish this with ovarian tissue preserved from someone so young and before the patient began menstruating.

The experimental procedure could provide hope to millions of girls and young women who battle cancer or conditions like sickle cell anemia and must face a harsh reality that surviving the disease will likely result in the permanent loss of fertility. In the field of reproductive oncology, preserving ovarian tissue could become a routine practice.