A woman gave birth to a healthy child after doctors transplanted ovarian tissue removed from her when she was just 13. While fertility has previously been restored in women by implanting ovarian tissue that was removed when they were adults, this is the first time that ovarian tissue taken from a young girl has led to a successful pregnancy.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when she was five years old. After moving to Belgium, her disease had become so severe that doctors decided she had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. To stop her immune system from rejecting the transplant, the patient had to receive chemotherapy.
The doctors knew that chemotherapy, which can destroy the functioning of the ovaries, could prevent the girl from being able to conceive. So, they removed her right ovary and froze the tissue fragments when she was just 13 – before she had even started her period. Doctors note that she was showing signs of starting puberty, but her remaining ovary failed when she was 15.
Ten years later, the woman wanted to have a baby. To fulfill her wish, doctors went back to the frozen tissue, thawed some of it, and grafted four fragments onto her remaining ovary and 11 onto the rest of her body. Two years after the transplant, the woman was able to naturally give birth to a healthy boy.
"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,” said Dr Isabelle Demeestere, who led the treatment, in a statement.
Demeestere hopes that the procedure can help other young people with a high risk of ovarian failure due to childhood diseases such as leukemia. She told BBC News that “the success of this procedure requires further investigation in very young pre-pubertal girls, as our patient had already started puberty even though she had not started menstruating.”
The woman’s ovary has continued to work normally and doctors suggest she might be able to conceive again. They could even carry out further transplants if her existing tissue failed to function.
Adam Balen, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery at the Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine, told Sky News: "There had previously been uncertainty as to whether ovarian tissue taken from young girls would later on be competent to produce mature, fertile eggs, so [this] case is both reassuring and exciting.
"There are only a few centers where the technology is available and this sort of treatment achievable. In years to come it will no doubt become more routine."