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Ovarian Tissue Banking - Save Your Eggs For When You Want or Need Them!

Updated on May 12, 2015

Ovary Bank? Could this be the future

The majority of women dream about the day they have a family with children running around the house although having children is a huge responsibility. Many women are waiting longer and longer to have children, such as they may want to have a solid base to build on or may want to tour the world before they settle down into a family. The problem with this is that as a woman gets older the 'chances' of falling pregnant decrease and the 'chance' of a genetic disorder increases.

A image of a human egg and sperm fusion, I really liked the image so decided to put it up.
A image of a human egg and sperm fusion, I really liked the image so decided to put it up.

This procedure is currently used for female patients with cancer. Ovarian banking technology allows women to bank one of their ovaries, making the procedure a very attractive option to women who are seeking a fertility insurance policy. So far, the procedure has only been successful for the very small number of women whose fertility has been destroyed by cancer. The effects of chemo-therapy in the treatment of cancer can destroy a women’s chances of conceiving a child.

Allowing the use of this technology to healthily women in this way is proving to be controversial because it is so untested, but is a potentially attractive option. Ovary banking promises a more reliable way to extend a women’s fertile years, banking ovarian tissue could finally fulfil the promise of the birth control pill. The technology could fundamentally revolutionise the way in which women age.

Banking ovarian tissue could be a procedure that helps the lives of many women.
Banking ovarian tissue could be a procedure that helps the lives of many women.

Women conceive later since birth control

The birth control pill revolutionised the world between 1970-2006, the average age of first-time mothers in the US rose from 21.4 to 25 years and the number of women who had their first child at 35 and above increased nearly eight times. With all of the advantages that came with the birth control pill a huge disadvantage also came. The notion of the ticking biological clock meant that problems arose because of the natural decline of women’s fertility.

As the average women gets older the chances of conceiving in a given month drops, between the ages 25 and 40, by a factor of five. In the 1970’s the idea of freezing eggs emerged as a way of increasing the length of the childbearing years although problems arose with this procedure. Egg freezing required two weeks of hormone pills and injections, and frequent ultrasounds to monitor the ripening eggs. Each of these time-consuming, expensive, hormone-heavy cycles would only yield around 12 eggs. In comparison to the banking of ovarian tissue which you can theoretically preserve thousands of eggs after one short surgical procedure.

The birth control pill.
The birth control pill.

The Procedure

The procedure in tails of making three small incisions in the lower stomach and would only take about 15minutes to remove most of one ovary. Then, back in the lab, the surgeon would dissect its egg-rich outer layer into about half a dozen tiny strips, soak them in antifreeze-like chemicals and preserve them inside a tank of liquid nitrogen (MHR, vol18, p57).

Once a women was ready to have a child the frozen ovarian tissue would be thawed and replanted on top of the other remaining ovary. If the procedure ran correctly within a few months, the implanted ovary would begin to generate relatively young eggs, making it possible for a women to conceiving naturally.

The procedure is fairly new and since 2004 only 19 babies have been born from frozen ovarian tissue, three of them have been from the same women. All of the babies were born to mothers who had been left with no other option because of cancer (Annals of Medicine, vol43, p 437).

The procedure was originally developed for women who had be diagnosed with cancer and were undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. These treatments can destroy a woman’s reproductive organs, but if she is too young to menstruate no eggs can be harvested for freezing. Ovarian tissue banking gives a young girl the chance to have children when she becomes older by saving the entire egg-making apparatus; helping girls from becoming infertile.

Thanks to the fast moving pace of medicine, the first baby was born in 2004 to a 32-year old Belgian women who froze her ovarian tissue before undergoing chemotherapy. The ovarian tissue was re-implanted six-years later and within the year the woman conceived naturally.

The experimental population of this procedure is so small that any conclusions have been determined from a small number of babies. This lack of data is what is stopping the procedure being offered to healthy women. For woman who have cancer this technology is sort of the last chance of having children after their treatment. Women who are able to conceive naturally, putting off a pregnancy and relying on a transplant is much more risky. The risks of any surgery may include bruising and infection and many other implications are factors that healthy women have to consider heavily before wanted to go through with this procedure.

Putting Off Menopause

The banking of ovarian tissue would also mean that women could put off menopause into their early 60’s. Putting off menopause would eliminate mood swings, hot flushes, insomnia and osteoporosis, the weakening of the bones caused by lack of oestrogen in older women. Healthy ovarian tissue could be extracted and frozen for the later years to come. A transplant could be given when menopausal symptoms being, with more thawed strips added every few years if necessary.

Sperm and Egg Fertilisation
Sperm and Egg Fertilisation

The benefits of banking ovarian tissue is over welling for both cancer patients and women of the future who may be able to delay the symptoms of menopause. The number of pregnancies from frozen ovarian tissue is growing year on year and the technology may soon be offered to healthy women who want to have children but later on in life. The freezing of ovarian tissue means that banking ovarian tissue when a woman was 25 could be reintroduced later on in life, when she is ready and at a higher fertility rate.

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Thanks for reading


Michael Domingos

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    • thebiologyofleah profile image

      Leah Kennedy-Jangraw 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Wow this is really interesting stuff. I am somewhat familiar with the options for men in the case of fertility issues arising from cancer treatments and I have heard of this option for women but didn't know much about it. Thanks for sharing. It will be interesting to see as more data comes about from using this option for women with cancer, if it will be mainstreamed and used for infertility of healthy women as well.

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