French doctors on Monday unveiled a new technique in ovarian transplant that had helped a young woman who had been menopausal for two years to give birth to a healthy baby girl.
Using a two-step process, they restored fertility to the woman after she had undergone chemotherapy treatment for sickle-cell anemia, a disease in which red blood cells become dangerously misshaped.
The unnamed 23-year-old patient gave birth in Besancon, eastern France, on June 22.
Ovarian transplants, pioneered in 2004, entail removing an ovary from a woman before she undergoes cancer therapy. The organ is frozen and then thawed and returned to the patient after her treatment.
But one of the biggest challenges in this surgery is encouraging the transplanted tissue to grow blood vessels.
If the blood supply is insufficient, the ovary does not respond to hormonal cues that prompt it to ovulate.
The new technique, described by Pascal Piver of the Limoges University Hospital in central-western France, entails a two-phase procedure in which tiny pieces of the stored tissue are stitched in place three days before the real transplant.
"The first graft encourages the growth of blood vessels and paves the way for the ovary to become fully functioning in a shorter time scale," the researchers said.
After the transplant, the patient started ovulating in four months and became pregnant after another two months, without the need for in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
The study was released in Amsterdam at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). Details were provided in a press statement by ESHRE.
Piver said the technique had also been used on a second patient whose ovary had been in storage for 10 years. She is now pregnant after IVF.
"We believe that it represents a considerable advance on the methods of ovarian transplantation used until now," he said.
"We hope that it will enable more young patients who have been cured of cancer to regain their reproductive health and become pregnant with their own children."