In a world first, Ouarda Touirat, a 32-year-old cancer survivor in Belgium, delivered a healthy baby this year after undergoing an ovarian tissue transplant. The revolutionary procedure offers hope of fending off infertility from chemotherapy or radiation damage to the ovaries.
Before Touirat received chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma seven years ago, her doctor recommended preserving pieces of her ovaries that might later be used to restore her fertility. The sample remained frozen until five years after Touirat’s treatment. In early 2003 Jacques Donnez at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, thawed and grafted some of the preserved tissue under one of Touirat’s ovaries. Eleven months later, Touirat conceived, and her daughter, Tamara, was born in September.
Doctors are confident that the birth is going to be the first of many using the technique, although some questions remain about whether the egg fertilized in Touirat’s pregnancy really came from the graft or was spontaneously released from one of her ovaries. For women facing cancer treatment, the main alternative is to take fertility drugs in order to produce eggs that can be stored for in vitro fertilization. But the drugs produce few eggs, and many women do not have time for the procedure before their cancer treatment. The new transplant procedure might also enable healthy women to extend their childbearing years by banking ovarian tissue when they are young.