In July, a group of doctors in Montreal presented a paper announcing a live birth resulting from an egg harvested before maturity, then matured in the lab, frozen, thawed, fertilized, and implanted. The procedure has now been successful with four mothers who had polycystic ovary syndrome, a disorder that prevents eggs from properly maturing in the ovaries.
Hananel Holzer, a research team member and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at McGill University in Montreal, said that the work’s importance is not necessarily for these patients; they could have undergone regular in vitro fertilization, despite its risks. Rather, cancer patients—whose eggs might be destroyed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy—will benefit the most if this still-experimental procedure becomes practical.
“Some patients don’t have enough time to go through the two to six weeks of an IVF procedure,” Holzer says. “They need treatment for the cancer, so you have to retrieve immature eggs.”
Frozen eggs have previously been fertilized, and immature eggs have been brought to maturity in a test tube. But this is the first time all the processes—harvesting the immature egg, maturing it in a test tube, freezing, thawing, fertilizing, and implanting it—have been put together to produce a healthy baby. “Until our study, no one knew whether eggs matured in the lab could survive these procedures,” Holzer says. “We’ve proved that they can.”
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