Four Ways Of Restoring Fertility

If you have suffered a premature menopause, due to a medical problem like premature ovarian failure (POF) or because of having chemo or radiation therapy for cancer, you may still be able to have children in the future.

There are several research projects around the world that are investigating ways of restoring women's fertility from different angles:- ovarian transplants, stem cell therapy, HRT therapy, and creating an artificial ovary.

1 - Ovarian Transplants

If you are facing chemo treatment it is now possible to have your ovaries removed, frozen and then ovarian tissue replaced after your treatment is finished. Another option, tried with identical twins, is for one twin to donate an ovary or ovarian tissue to the infertile twin. According to various research published in Human Reproduction (Feb 2010 & Mar 2011), Fertility & Sterility (Nov 2010), and in BioOne (Oct 2010) as well as other journals, there have been at least 8 successful pregnancies world-wide following this procedure.

Fertility Restored

In one research project, 9 women had an ovary donation from their identical twin, while 16 young women who received ovarian cortex cryopreservation had some ovarian tissue replaced after cancer treatment. In all these cases, the women's menstrual cycles came back within 5 months of the surgery. 14 of the women became pregnant naturally and although not all of the pregnancies went to term, 8 babies were born by the time the research was published. Although the best method for restoring fertility is still being researched, it is certainly a viable option worth asking your oncologist and fertility specialist about. At present the NHS only offers fertility preservation of eggs to cancer patients, and cryopreservation and ovarian tissue transplants may only be available privately.

2 - Stem Cell Research

The latest stem cell research also offers hope in the long-term. An Egyptian research team has managed to restore fertility to rats. They injected certain specific stem cells into non-functioning rat ovaries and managed to get them to work again. Although this is still at the animal research stage, stem cell research in other areas has managed to, for example, restore the sight to someone who was blind in one eye, grow sperm in a test tube, and help heart patients. More research is needed, but hopefully restoring function to women suffering from POF will be possible in the near future.

3 - HRT Therapy

Another option available now for young women suffering from POF due to chemo or radiation therapy is to have HRT. According to research published in Bone Marrow Transplantation (pub. Online October 2007) several young women who previously had chemo or radiation therapy had their fertility restored by being treated with HRT. Not only did they get their menstrual cycle back but also were able to get pregnant and give birth to a healthy child.

4 - Artificial Ovary

Other hope for women lies in research carried out at Brown University in America. Scientists there have managed to create an artificial ovary that they can use to observe how an ovary works. They have already managed to mature human eggs in the ovary. More research is needed into how the ovary normally works and what disrupts its function before women who are cancer survivors will be able to benefit. However, in the future women may be able to have their eggs developed in this artificial ovary as part of ART.

If you have POF ask your specialist if HRT or ovarian tissue transplantation is a suitable treatment for you and available from your NHS PCT.

Meanwhile we aim to keep you up to date with research developments here on our website.

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