Scientists provide fertility hope for young cancer patients

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have succeeded in freezing eggs from the ovarian tissue of girls as young as five, an achievement which could have important implications in helping some young cancer patients retain their prospects of having children in adulthood.

It is not uncommon for patients who undergo chemotherapy to have difficulty conceiving later in life.

Although in adult women the ovaries can be stimulated to produce eggs for removal and freezing, this procedure is not possible in pre-pubescent girls.

Instead, doctors freeze the part of the ovary containing the egg-producing follicles for future transplantation, although the freezing process often damages the tissue.

However, scientists at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital have discovered that even patients as young as five may have viable eggs which can be extracted, matured under laboratory conditions and then frozen.

Presenting the findings at the 23rd annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, Dr Ariel Revel revealed that the technique could become increasingly important in preserving fertility in children undergoing treatment for cancer.

The team used a needle to take tissue samples from ovaries of children with cancer.

"We were then able to mature the eggs in vitro and freeze them for use in the future," said Dr Revel.

The researcher revealed that, of 130 egg cells that were matured in the laboratory, 41 were successful, representing a 32 per cent success rate.

Although none of the eggs have yet been thawed and a pregnancy attempted, Dr Revel said that the results were encouraging.

"We are hopeful that the mature eggs can offer these girls a realistic possibility of preserving their fertility," he added.