A new infertility treatment has resulted in the birth of healthy twins to a British couple.
The treatment known as in-vitro maturation or IVM, enables infertile couples to conceive without the need for the woman to take powerful hormonal drugs to stimulate her ovaries.
The healthy twins were conceived by IVM and the success of the procedure will lead to more couples being able to access the technique which is a safer, cheaper and quicker alternative to IVF.
The babies, a boy and girl, were conceived by removing eggs from their mother’s ovaries while still undeveloped and then maturing them artificially in the laboratory. They were then fertilised with their father’s sperm before being put back into their mother's womb.
Worldwide around 400 babies have been born using IVM, while 2 million children have been born through traditional IVF techniques; the twins are the first to be born by the procedure in Britain.
The John Radcliffe Oxford Fertility Unit was awarded the first licence to offer the treatment in January and the procedure will bring hope to thousands of British women who are infertile but are unable or do not wish to take the hormonal drugs used in standard IVF.
The treatment will be welcomed in particular by the 30 to 40 per cent of female infertility patients whose problems arise from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS affects 10 to 20 per cent of women and such women are often advised not to take fertility drugs because they have a raised risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
OHSS can on rare occasions cause kidney damage and even death and while it occurs in one in 100 IVF cycles, it affects one in 10 cycles among women suffering from PCOS.
The procedure may also help cancer patients to preserve their fertility before having chemotherapy that might render them sterile, as hormonal drugs can encourage tumours.
A Canadian team reported the birth of the world's first baby conceived from a frozen IVM egg in July.
At the Oxford unit, 20 patients have undergone IVM and five have become pregnant; the unit is currently offering IVM to women with PCOS who are aged under 37.
Experts say for women with PCOS the main advantage of IVM over IVF is improved safety as IVM removes the one in ten chance of the serious condition of severe OHSS.
In-Vitro maturation was developed in the late 1990s by doctors in Denmark.
The eggs are extracted from a woman's ovaries using a needle probe guided by ultrasound. The procedure is very patient-friendly and costs an estimated £1,700 less than conventional IVF.