According to a Belgian report from the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, the successful graft of ovarian tissue from one sister to another brings new hope that this technique can help women who have become infertile following a bout of cancer treatment.
Physicians had already been successful in a similar transplant procedure performed in genetically identical twin sisters. In this latest case however, the sisters were not twins. The sister who had received the transplant had become infertile following treatment for a rare blood disorder called beta-thalassemia. During this previous treatment, her younger sister had donated bone marrow; hence, the physicians were certain that the two sisters were genetically compatible.
Pieces of ovarian tissue were taken from the younger sister and transplanted in the older sister. Six months later, the young woman started menstruating again, confirming that ovarian function had been restored. A year later, physicians were able to take two ovules which were then fertilized in vitro with the husband’s sperm. Unfortunately, they were unable to obtain viable embryos. However, the physicians do not believe there is a link between this failure and the transplant. In fact, during in vitro fertilization, not every egg yields viable embryos.
According to the Belgian physicians who performed the transplant, this achievement is a ray of hope for women who lose ovarian function following a treatment, and were unable to have their eggs frozen prior to the treatment. However, these women will have to find another woman with whom they are genetically compatible, usually a sister.
Childless cancer survivors often have to abandon their dream of carrying a child. Perhaps ovarian tissue transplant could help them realize this dream.