Researchers may have found a way to end menopause after proving that transplanted ovaries remain effective for at least seven years. Of the three women, one has had three children since her transplant, a second has had two and the third is expecting her third child. Medical experts believe the three could be the pioneers for a treatment that would allow women to delay motherhood.
Gedis Grudzinskas, a consultant gynecologist based in London, said, “If the technology is as good as we believe it is, this is a breakthrough which would be as significant as the pill was so many years ago. Women will have so much more choice about when and how to have children, independent of their age and the so-called biological clocks ticking away at various rates in their ovaries.”
Evidence of the success, to be published soon in the medical journal, Reproductive Biomedicine Online, has led to plans by doctors to offer women in their 20s the opportunity to freeze parts of their ovaries for use later.
In one case, the woman had her tissue frozen and transplanted back into her at a later date. In the other two cases, the tissue was transplanted from an identical twin sister so it would not be rejected. The transplants allowed all three to conceive naturally and the births showed that the ovaries continued to work for at least seven years after the operations.
Sherman Silber of the Infertility Centre of St Louis, Missouri, and one of the authors of the paper, said, “It is possible to remove a small piece of ovarian tissue, freeze it, and when the woman reaches menopause around the age of 51, we could transplant that tissue back and she might not ever have to go through menopause.” As well as releasing eggs, a woman's ovaries produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that control periods.
Stinne Holm Bergholdt, 35, one of the three women in the study, was diagnosed with bone cancer at 27. Before undergoing chemotherapy, Dr Holm Bergholdt, a doctor from Odense in Denmark, had one of her ovaries removed. The chemotherapy left her infertile and forced her into an early menopause. In December 2005, Dr Holm Bergholdt had strips of her frozen ovary thawed and transplanted back into her body by Claus Yding Andersen of Copenhagen University Hospital, the lead author of the paper. Dr Holm Bergholdt's first child, Aviaja, a girl, was born in 2007. She has since given birth to two more children.
Another transplant recipient had leukemia and became infertile after treatment, while the other began menopause at the age of 22. After having her tissue transplanted at the age of 38, she is about to have her third child.
Dr Grudzinskas said he hopes the treatment will be available in the UK within a year, after being successfully performed in Denmark and the USA.