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‘Exciting’ fertility hope for women who have cancer

SCIENTISTS have made ‘exciting’ progress on artificial ovaries that could help preserve women’s fertility after cancer treatment.

For the first time, eggs have been shown to survive in the lab on a ‘bio-engineered scaffold’ made of ovarian tissue removed from cancer patients and stripped of cells.

Eventually such a structure could be re-implanted into women to restore fertility after chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Professor Nick Macklon, medical director at London Women’s Clinic, said it was an ‘exciting development’. Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, also in London, said ‘it offers huge advantages over IVF and egg freezing’.

The Danish researchers presented their findings at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Barcelona.

Currently women dealing with a cancer diagnosis can have their eggs frozen, or have all or part of an ovary removed so it can be transplanted back after treatment. This, however, carries the risk that grafted ovarian tissue could reintroduce cancer cells.

The ‘bio-engineered’ ovary, from which all cells were eliminated using chemicals, reduces this risk, said the team from the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Eggs survived in the lab when the graft was transplanted into mice.

Mr Lavery said: ‘If it does work, there’s the advantage of then getting pregnant the old-fashioned way. We are some years away from that, and so IVF and egg-freezing is here now and will be with us for several years, but if this works it has dramatic potential.’