Frozen egg baby gives cancer sufferers hope

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Frozen egg baby gives cancer sufferers
hope

By Nic Fleming, Science Correspondent, in Lyon
Last Updated: 2:24am BST 03/07/2007

The first test-tube baby created from a frozen egg matured in a laboratory has been
born, in a breakthrough that offers hope to female cancer sufferers unable to undergo
normal IVF.
Researchers who have carried out the experimental procedure on 20 women revealed
yesterday that one had given birth to a healthy baby girl, and three others were
pregnant.
Babies have been born from frozen mature eggs, before, but this is the first to have
been created from an egg matured in the lab, frozen, then thawed before being
fertilised.
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Scientists last night hailed the announcement as a significant breakthrough
for women with diseases that make conventional fertility treatment
dangerous.
Women having conventional IVF are given high doses of hormone drugs to stimulate
their ovaries to produce mature eggs.
This can be dangerous for patients with certain diseases such as hormone-sensitive
breast cancer or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - leaving many unable to have
children.
Others who need urgent chemotherapy or other treatment cannot wait the two to six
weeks it takes to obtain eggs through hormone-based stimulation.
Previously, it was not known whether eggs collected when they were immature could
survive freezing and thawing, and produce a pregnancy.
If scientists can perfect the new technique, using in vitro or laboratory maturation (IVM)
followed by freezing, it could mean all IVF patients no longer having to take expensive
and powerful hormone drugs.
Canadian scientist Dr Hananel Holzer yesterday told delegates at the European Society
of Human Reproduction and Embryology (Eshre) conference in Lyon, France, that the
first baby created using the new method was born in Canada last year.
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Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield and secretary
of the British Fertility Society, said of the breakthrough: "This could be a very significant
step forward in developing an effective fertility preservation strategy for women and
young girls who are diagnosed with cancer before they have had an opportunity to
complete their families. In comparison to men, who can easily bank some sperm before
cancer treatment, women have very few options.
"Clearly, there needs to be more work done to make sure that the technique is safe,
and that the children born from the eggs are healthy, but if this is done then this
technique could become very important indeed."
Dr Holzer, assistant professor at the McGill Reproductive Center in Montreal, said:
"Freezing a woman's eggs has become an important and integral part of fertility
treatment.
"To date the pregnancies reported have been the result of fertilisation of frozen or
vitrified and then thawed eggs that had been collected after ovarian stimulation.
Unfortunately some patients seeking fertility preservation may not have enough time to
undergo ovarian simulation."
Dr Holzer added: "Until now it was not known whether eggs collected from unstimulated
ovaries, matured in vitro and then vitrified, could survive thawing, be fertilised
successfully and result in a viable pregnancy after embryo transfer."
PCOS causes symptoms including acne, irregular periods, heart disease, late onset
diabetes, and unwanted body hair in up to four million women in Britain.
It is also one of the main causes of infertility. Women with the condition are advised not
to have ovarian stimulation because they are at greater risk of suffering potentially
deadly ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.
Dr Holzer collected immature eggs from 20 patients with PCOS with an average age of
30. Two-thirds of the 296 eggs collected were successfully matured in the laboratory,
and two-thirds of these survived the freezing and thawing process.
Four of the patients became pregnant after embryos were transferred. The baby girl is
said to be healthy.
Women diagnosed with hormone-sensitive cancers are likely to be the main
beneficiaries, as cancer treatments can leave them sterile and they often have no time
to take fertility drugs.
Dr Holzer warned these were only preliminary results and that none of those taking part
were cancer patients.
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