London – A woman recovering from cancer has become the first to give birth after freezing her immature eggs.
The 34-year-old, from France, had a healthy boy, Jules, five years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Experts say the procedure marks a major fertility breakthrough for cancer patients, many of whom are left infertile by chemotherapy.
Usually women who want to freeze their eggs for use in IVF later in life have to go through several weeks of hormone treatment to trigger ovulation so their mature eggs can be harvested and frozen. But cancer patients often cannot afford to delay life-saving treatment while waiting for this process to take place.
The hormones used to trigger ovulation also carry a risk of accelerating cancer growth, particularly for breast cancer. So doctors from Antoine Beclere University Hospital near Paris have been offering women with cancer another option.
This involves taking immature eggs directly from the ovaries and artificially maturing them in the lab before freezing, a technique known as in vitro maturation or IVM.
Jules is the first baby born using the technique – which experts say offers hope of motherhood for many women who would otherwise never have the chance.
Professor Michael Grynberg, the fertility preservation expert who led the project, said he saw the patient when she was 29, following her cancer diagnosis, and offered her the chance of the new technique or another option that involves removing and freezing ovarian tissue, which is replaced once chemotherapy is complete.
Although freezing ovarian tissue has been shown to work, it is a radical and invasive option that few women want to undergo when they have just been told they have cancer.
The woman, who has not been named, chose to have her immature eggs frozen. An ultrasound scan revealed there were 17 small fluid-filled sacs containing immature eggs in her ovaries, the Annals of Oncology medical journal reports.
Six days later Professor Grynberg used a long needle to extract seven immature eggs which were matured in a mix of chemicals in the lab for 48 hours before six were frozen.
The woman underwent chemotherapy, and after five years had recovered from breast cancer.
She tried for a baby for a year but was unable to conceive so decided to use her frozen eggs.
All six eggs were thawed and five were successfully fertilised. One embryo was then transferred to woman’s womb. She gave birth to Jules in July.
Professor Grynberg said: "We were delighted that the patient became pregnant without any difficulty and successfully delivered a healthy baby at term. This success represents a breakthrough in the field of fertility preservation. We are aware that eggs matured in the lab are of lower quality when compared with those obtained after ovarian stimulation.
"However, our success with Jules shows that this technique should be considered a viable option."
Fertility expert Professor Richard Anderson, of the University of Edinburgh, said: "This advance is particularly important for cancer patients, but it’s also a step towards easier and less invasive IVF for other women and couples needing assisted reproduction."