Women hoping to have children later in life are being advised to bank small parts of their ovaries, rather than just freezing their eggs. The suggestion comes from US reproductive surgeon, Dr Sherman Silber, who carried out the world’s first full ovary transplant. He claims this new method is more effective than IVF.
The procedure involves surgically removing and freezing a third of the tissue from one ovary, which contains about 60,000 eggs. These can be transplanted back when the woman is older. The new technique could potentially give a 40 year old woman, the fertility of a 20 year old.
Gynaecologist, Dr Adrian Lower says:
“Once the tissue has been taken, it can be stored for more or less as long as is necessary. It doesn’t deteriorate, it doesn’t degrade. It’s stored in liquid nitrogen.”
Removing slivers of ovarian tissue leaves the rest of the ovary intact, so women can still try to conceive naturally. It is also believed that freezing ovarian tissue is cheaper than extracting single eggs.
Nevertheless, should more women be planning for pregnancy at an older age? One woman saw nothing wrong with the new procedure: “Women are leaving having children later in life, so if it works for them, yes it’s great.”
However, another woman was worried about the implications of making it easier for older women to have babies: “I think maybe there should be an age limit on how long you could use it for because otherwise you could have a baby at 70, couldn’t you?”
Around the world, more than 20 babies have been born from ovary or ovarian tissue transplants, but the technique is not a simple fix or guaranteed to work, warns Kate Brian from the London Fertility Network: “I think a lot of people assume that infertility treatment can turn back the biological clock, but that’s the one thing they really can’t do. That’s the one area we really can’t help with at the moment. Egg freezing has been a step forward in that way, but all of these things are still in their infancy, so it’s very early to talk about them as ways of preserving fertility, I think.”
This new technique may give hope to women wanting a child later in life, but some are warning it is not equivalent to turning back the body’s fertility clock.