Young girls have eggs extracted before chemo to protect fertility

Israeli fertility experts have extracted and frozen eggs from girls as young as five about to undergo chemotherapy and frozen them so they can be used later to start a family.

The initiative raises hopes for thousands of girls who survive childhood cancer each year but are left infertile by chemotherapy.

Fertility specialists had previously thought it was impossible to retrieve usable eggs from girls so young, but a team of Israeli doctors Hadassah University hospital in Jerusalem were able to extract early-stage eggs and mature them in a laboratory before storing them in deep freeze.

The doctors collected tissue from the girls' ovaries and isolated the immature eggs, which were then matured in a Petri dish over one to two days until they resembled those of a 20-year-old woman.

The team extracted 167 eggs in total from 18 girls and tried to mature 130 of the eggs but only achieved full maturation in 41.

It will be at least 10 years before they will know if the eggs are capable of leading to live births but they are optimistic that the eggs will offer the girls a realistic possibility of preserving their fertility.

According to fertility specialist Dr. Ariel Revel the discovery was unexpected because eggs are not normally found in follicles until after puberty.

The immature eggs, which were incapable of fertilization, were matured in the laboratory with hormones before they were frozen and Dr. Revel says they do not know if pregnancies could result.

Around 1,500 children are treated for cancer in Britain each year and 12,400 in the U.S., and because the disease is often diagnosed late it can be far more advanced than in adults and needs more aggressive treatment.

Progress in childhood cancer therapy has seen cure rates rise substantially in recent years to between 70% and 90%.

The research was presented this week at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Lyon.

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