Toddler (2) becomes the youngest patient ever to have her eggs frozen in fertility first
A two-year-old girl has become the youngest ever patient to have eggs grown in the hope it could allow her to one day become a mother.
British experts said the “extraordinary” world first by Oxford University could help patients around the world whose fertility is compromised by chemotherapy
The findings, to be presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Helsinki, come from a study of young cancer patients.
Scientists were able to retrieve ovarian tissue from toddlers and children – and then, crucially, to identify immature eggs, which were incubated and matured overnight, until they could viably be frozen.
Fertility doctors last night hailed the advances as an “extremely exciting” and a step towards the “holy grail of fertility preservation.”
The study included girls as young as two years old.
Scientists were able to first harvest ovarian tissue, which itself could be transplanted decades later, to assist fertility.
But they were also able to retrieve, grow and freeze immature eggs from the tissue in most of the cases involving children.
Researchers said this finding was “extremely exciting” because it meant patients could have fertility treatment with their own eggs, decades later.
Ovarian transplants have also been a recent source of hope for such patients, experts said, but there had been some caution as to whether cancer cells could survive such processes.
Prof Tim Child, from Oxford University, said: “Cancer treatment can be very successful but the drugs can completely damage the ovaries. This gives hope to young girls who could otherwise be sterilised by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.”
“It’s extremely exciting because it's two simultaneous approaches showing effect,” he said.
While the process was able to identify the most mature of the immature eggs, which were then incubated overnight, to assist their survival, he said he was hopeful that in future, scientists would be able to expand the technique to retrieve thousands more specimens.
“That would be the holy grail of fertility preservation, because the possibilities are limitless,” he said.
Scientists cautioned that the proof of the success of the new technique would not be known until the children became adults, and began to plan a family.
But they said they were “extremely hopeful”.
Prof Stuart Lavery, consultant gynaecologist from Hammersmith Hospital, described the findings as “quite extraordinary” but said it would be decades before the success of such techniques was proven.
"It is really amazing what the Oxford team have done,” he said.
He said the breakthrough offered even greater promise than ovarian transplants, which have recently been shown promise in fertility treatment.
Last year Belgian doctors announced the first baby born after a woman underwent an ovarian transplant as a teenager. And earlier this year, a British woman became the firsr to be implanted with an ovary frozen when she was a child.
The UK case involved a woman of 23 who had her ovary removed and frozen at the age of just eight.
Prof Lavery said that growing eggs from the tissue might be shown to offer greater advantages in such cases.
“In the future the idea is to put those little pieces of ovary back into the person themselves but the worry has always been could there be some cancer cells,” he said.
"What this study shows is that they were able to actually grow and isolate some eggs from that tissue - so the idea is could you use those eggs in future without having to transplant the ovary back.”