A woman made sterile by cancer treatment became pregnant after one of her eggs was frozen and then (five years later) thawed and fertilized. It is the first time in the world ever.
A study published Wednesday in the Annals of Oncology describes how the child was born to a 34-year-old French woman, rendered sterile by chemotherapy for breast cancer.
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Before treatment began, doctors removed seven immature eggs from the ovaries and used a technique called in vitro maturation (IVM) to allow them to develop further in the laboratory.
Until now, there have never been any successful pregnancies in cancer patients with oocytes undergoing IVM and freezing.
Steps forward for cancer patients, but also for in vitro fertilization
Michael Grynberg, head of the Department of Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Conservation at Antoine Beclere University Hospital near Paris, recalled learning about the patient's case when he was 29.
"I offered her the opportunity to freeze oocytes and ovarian tissue"he said.
The patient rejected the second option as too invasive. It had been only a few days since the cancer diagnosis and the mood was not the best.
The so-called cryopreservation of ovarian tissue is an experimental method in which the outer layer of an ovary (which contains immature oocytes) is removed from the body and frozen for future use.
In the case of the French patient, the ultrasound revealed that there were 17 small fluid-filled sacs containing immature oocytes in her ovaries.
Using hormones to stimulate the ovaries to mature eggs would have taken too long and could have made her cancer worse. The only option was to retrieve the eggs and freeze them.
The freezing preservation technique without hormone stimulation works less well, but we really didn't have a choiceMichael Grynberg
After five years, the patient recovered from breast cancer but was no longer able to conceive naturally. The chemo had made her sterile.
It is not uncommon, unfortunately.
From the age of 40 onwards, about 40% of breast cancer patients go through menopause as a result of treatment. At 30, the percentage is 15-20%.
The current, innovative techniques to delay menopause they cannot be applied on cancer patients, unfortunately.
Pregnancy from a sterile woman for chemo, the path
Be eggs frozen five years ago survived thawing, five of these have been successfully fertilized, a of these fertilized eggs was transferred to the patient's uterus and gave birth to a healthy baby.
A hope of rebirth
"We have shown that this technique, although it can be improved, allows women in this situation to have children", he said Grynberg.
Experts have described it as a breakthrough.
"Successfully maturing the eggs after removal from the ovaries was a challenge, this is a welcome positive step"Said Richard Anderson, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at the MRC Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh.
Freezing the eggs at that stage also means leaving them on the woman's property, without the complications that using a partner's sperm can generate, he noted.
This advance is especially important for cancer patients, but it is also a step towards easier and less invasive in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Ah! I forgot. The baby born from the pregnancy of the woman made sterile by chemo is called Jules.
Like the famous Jules Verne, and his journey was no less fantastic than those narrated in the writer's books.