Ovary Transplants

An ovary transplant is an exciting new development but it is still very much at the experimental stage. It is seen as an option for women who want to postpone children until they are ready but this has attracted criticism for certain quarters.

Critics of this argue that infertility treatment should be geared towards couples who have genuine reasons for being childless rather than a ‘lifestyle choice’.

The procedure involves the removal of an ovary which is frozen and placed in storage until required at a later date. This ovary is then thawed out slowly and transplanted back into the body.

Reasons for an ovary transplant

There are a variety of reasons why a woman may need an ovary transplant. These include:

  • Early menopause: there are some women who undergo an early menopause which results in infertility. This procedure could work if an early menopausal woman has a sister with an identical tissue match. In other words, the sister is able to donate ovarian tissue or even a whole ovary which matches hers.
  • Cancer treatment: radiation treatment or chemotherapy can result in infertility. So if an ovary could be removed before starting this treatment then theoretically, this could be transplanted back into their body and restore their fertility.
  • Organ transplants: kidney, heart and other types of transplants require the patient to take large doses of immunosuppressive drugs which can cause infertility.

Ideally, the woman would have an ovary removed before undergoing this treatment which would then be replaced at a later date.

Success rates

This treatment is largely experimental and only a few operations have been carried out to date. And these operations have been performed on identical twins which reduces the risk of rejection.

For this to work with unrelated women there would have to be a near perfect match as is the case with any other type of transplant.

Fertility specialists view this as an exciting development but remain cautious about the results. They argue that more research is needed but that it certainly looks promising.

They suggest that this procedure may work well for women who have an identical twin sister that can donate an ovary or are due to undergo cancer treatment and know that they will become infertile as a result.

Women who suffer from osteoporosis could also benefit from this procedure as it would restart menstruation. And menstruation does protect a woman against osteoporosis.

Ovary transplant procedure

The ovary is removed via keyhole surgery which reduces recovery time. The ovary is then frozen until further notice.

The ovary to be transplanted is thawed out slowly beforehand. The transplant procedure is performed as open surgery this time and involves reconnecting tiny blood vessels to the ovary. This enables a steady blood flow to the ovary which is vital for it to function.

It will take a few months following surgery for the ovary to be fully functional but evidence suggests that normal hormone production occurs within 5 months or so.

Another option is to transplant sections of ovarian tissue rather than the complete ovary. Some women have undergone surgery in which strips of ovarian tissue have been transplanted onto their defective ovary which then enables it work again. And this has resulted in successful pregnancies.

This procedure is still in its infancy but holds out a great deal of promise for female infertility in the future.

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