Australia resident Vali, 24, is expecting twin girls after becoming pregnant just seven years after having both of her ovaries removed. Vali’s fertility specialist and head of fertility preservation at Melbourne IVF, Kate Stern, explains how she and her colleagues helped the young woman, who had her ovaries removed during cancer treatment, to get pregnant using frozen tissue grafting.
“We have proven that ovarian tissue can still work and function normally outside the pelvis, which is its normal environment," Stern told the Sydney Herald. "For patients who have severe pelvic disease where we can't put the tissue back, we can now offer these patients the realistic chance of getting pregnant."
Stern’s colleagues from Melbourne IVF, along with healthcare professionals from The Royal Women’s Hospital, used frozen ovary tissue extracted from Vali when she had her second ovary removed to produce healthy eggs from egg follicles.
The frozen tissue was grafted into the front wall of her abdomen, and she was given hormone treatment over time to help follicles and, eventually, eggs grow. Just a few months after the procedure, researchers found two healthy eggs that were fertilized and implanted, turning into healthy pregnancies.
"We checked the tissue again, checked with her surgeon, made sure that everything was OK and spoke with her oncologist, talked with her about the risks,” Stern told The Guardian.
"The tissue was put back in the front wall of her abdomen, so that means it's under the skin and the muscle but not inside the abdomen. We wanted to see if this might help her get pregnant. Then we gave her some very gentle hormone stimulation — not the full-on IVF."
Believed to be the first time that a woman has become pregnant after having both ovaries removed, this case is a landmark for both pregnancy and cancer research. The facts surrounding this cutting-edge form of fertility treatment has already garnered a great deal of attention from members of the health and medical community.
"It makes me quite convinced that the optimal way for preserving fertility will be taking ovarian tissue," Gab Kovacs, international medical director of Monash IVF, told the Sydney Herald. "If I had a patient who was going to lose their fertility to cancer treatment I would offer it from now on."