Doctor Transplants Ovaries, Preserving Women's Eggs

ByABC News
September 26, 2001, 9:41 AM

Sept. 26 -- It sounds like science fiction surgically moving a patient's organs around and getting them to work in different parts of the body.

That, in fact, is what doctors at Weill Medical College of Cornell University have now successfully done.

In today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. KutlukOktay and colleagues report having successfully relocated pieces of ovary from the abdomens to the forearms of two women.

One patient had cervical cancer, for which she had to undergo radiation treatment that would have rendered her infertile if the ovaries had remained in place. The other patienthad to have her ovaries removed because of benign ovarian cysts, though parts of her organs were still healthy.

Healthy and Normal Eggs

By relocating their ovarian tissue, the doctors preserved the women's ability to produce healthy eggs which may later be removed from the arm and used for in vitro fertilization.

If the uterus is healthy, the fertilized embryos may be implanted in the patient's womb so she may carry the fetus. If the uterus is not sound, a woman could choose to have a surrogate carry the child.

Dr. Oktay's report showed the transplanted ovaries, now located just under the skin of the forearm (see photo above), functioned the same as they did in their original position; they secreted reproductive hormones, restored regular cycles of menstruation,and most important for fertility, actually produced mature eggs which appear healthy and normal.

The women said the transplants did not cause any pain or discomfort, but did remark they could "feel" the developing egg and surrounding tissue during the ovulation phase of their menstrual cycle. Oktay enthused: "we are very excited by how soon the transplantsbegan functioning, how well they worked, and how good the patients felt with their own hormones restored."

Dr. Beth Karlan, Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, comments, "Although no pregnancies have yet occurred, this report and the technique of ovarian autotransplantion clearly opens the door to future fertility for these women."