- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2020

A French woman became the first cancer patient to give birth by freezing, thawing and fertilizing her immature eggs, researchers said in a study published this week.

The 34-year-old woman, who was rendered infertile due to her breast cancer treatments, gave birth to a baby boy, after thawing and fertilizing one of her eggs that she had frozen five years before.

Doctors had removed seven immature eggs from the woman’s ovaries and used a technique called in vitro maturation (IVM) that further developed the eggs in a lab, according to the study published Wednesday in the Annals of Oncology.

“This report confirms the importance of preserving fertility in young cancer patients. It also means that there are some alternative methods when ovarian stimulation is not feasible for freezing eggs. With this live birth vitrification of oocytes (ovary cells) after IVM shifts from the hope to reality,” said Michael Grynberg, a study author and director of the Department of Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Preservation at Antoine Béclère University Hospital near Paris.

Until now, there had been no successful pregnancies in cancer patients with eggs that have undergone IVM and freezing. However, some children have been born using IVM immediately followed by fertilization and transfer to the patient.

“It is, no doubt, a wonderful outcome for this family. However, IVM as a technique has been around for a long time,” said Dr. Eric Widra, chief medical officer of Shady Grove Fertility in Maryland. “It is generally associated with very poor outcomes as eggs that mature in the lab have far less potential than eggs that are mature at the time they are retrieved from the ovaries.”

Dr. Widra also noted cancer treatments can impair or eliminate fertility for both men and women.

“Many forms of chemotherapy can damage a woman’s eggs, sometimes to the point of early menopause,” he said. “The state of the art for fertility preservation in cancer patients is stimulation and freezing of mature eggs, or in the case of those women with a partner, creating embryos in the lab and freezing those for the future.”

But Dr. Grynberg said safety information on ovarian stimulation is “dramatically lacking,” noting that oncologists might expect a fertility preservation method that doesn’t use hormones.

Using hormones to stimulate the patient’s ovaries to “ripen the eggs” would have taken too long and possibly could have made her cancer worse, said a news release by the European Society for Medical Oncology.

After five years, the patient recovered from breast cancer, but chemotherapy had made her infertile and she had been unable to conceive for a year.

Six of her eggs that had been frozen earlier survived the thawing process, and five fertilized successfully.

One of the fertilized eggs was then transferred to the woman’s uterus, and she gave birth to a baby boy named Jules on July 6.

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