Delaying menopause possible with ovary transplants

Women may be able to delay menopause "indefinitely" — and have babies later — with an ovary tissue transplant technique already in use.

The ovarian tissue transplant techniques of one American doctor, already being used to treat cancer, were presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology this week in Istanbul, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The ovarian tissue can also be frozen and stored. According to reports of successful treatments, a woman in Belgium gave birth after her ovarian tissue was frozen for decade, and in Italy a woman had a healthy baby girl after her tissue was frozen for seven years.

"It's really fantastic, we didn't expect a little piece of ovarian tissue to last this long," the American microsurgeon responsible, Sherman Silber, reportedly said.  

According to the Daily Mail, Silber had performed transplants of ovarian tissue for 11 women at St Luke's Hospital in St Louis, Missouri.

In 2007, Silber transplanted an ovary from one identical twin to another, with the 38-year-old recipient giving birth the following year.

The recipient has now had two healthy baby boys and a baby girl, all conceived without IVF, the most recent when she was age 45. 

Worldwide, 28 women had given birth after having their ovarian tissue "restored," the Telegraph reported. Most of the children had been conceived naturally without the need for IVF for drugs. 

The treatments could also have health benefits, helping women avoid the increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease linked to menopause, according to advocates.

"A woman born today has a 50 per cent chance of living to 100. That means they are going to be spending half of their lives post-menopause, the Telegraph quoted Silber saying.

"You could have grafts removed as a young woman and then have the first replaced as you approach menopausal age. You could then put a slice back every decade.

"Some women might want to go through the menopause, but others might not."

A report in Today Online quoted Stuart Lavery, head of IVF at Hammersmith Hospital in London, as saying the findings showed ovarian transplants could last a lot longer than previously thought.

Tim Hillard, a gynecologist and trustee of the British Menopause Society, called Silber's technique "exciting."

"This is an exciting developing as a fertility treatment, however we would need much more data before claims could be made about the menopause, he reportedly said.

"You would have to balance it very carefully, the higher risks of breast and womb cancer that go with having estrogen circulating for longer against the increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and maybe dementia that go with the menopause.

"Theoretically it could be used as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy, particularly in women who go through the menopause prematurely, but that could be 10 or 15 years away."

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