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For women on chemo, child's birth gives hope

Published Aug. 28, 2005

Belgian physicians have for the first time produced a healthy infant conceived using ovarian tissue that had been frozen to protect it from the lethal effects of chemotherapy.

After the tissue was re-implanted, Ouarda Touirat conceived naturally and Tamara Touirat, 8 pounds, 4 ounces, was born Thursday evening at St. Luke's Hospital in Brussels _ seven years after her mother began chemotherapy.

The finding, published online Friday by the medical journal Lancet, gives hope to women who in the past would have lost their chance for a family because their cancer treatment rendered them infertile. But it might be years before the technique is used routinely.

"This is just one case, but as the technology gets better, more and more people will have this done," said Dr. Alan DeCherney, a reproductive specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of the Journal of Fertility and Sterility. "It does have a future. It's not a gimmick."

Experts cautioned there was a small possibility that the pregnancy resulted from some ovarian tissue that was not destroyed by the chemotherapy. "We can't say absolutely that the pregnancy was from the transplanted tissue," said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks of the Weill Medical College at Cornell University. "Women can occasionally regain reproductive function (after chemotherapy)."

Reproductive scientists routinely freeze embryos, but it is difficult to preserve unfertilized eggs. Sperm can be frozen, but thawing out eggs has been a much more difficult proposition for reasons that are still not clear.

Just this month, researchers from the University of Bologna in Italy reported they had produced 13 pregnancies among 68 couples using in vitro fertilization of 737 frozen eggs.

Worldwide, more than 100 babies have been conceived from frozen eggs, said Dr. Roger Gosden of Cornell.

But eggs cannot be collected from prepubescent girls, or even from some teenagers. And collecting eggs takes time, which often is not available if a woman must start chemotherapy quickly. Ovarian tissue can be collected easily and freezing it is a better option than freezing eggs.