Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fertility on Ice

By Michael Cook

Cryopreservation and eventual transplantation of ovarian tissue may delay menopause, but what are the consequences?

Michael Cook is editor of the online bioethics newsletter BioEdge.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

One seldom-mentioned element in the bioethicist’s skill set is a wild imagination. Perhaps that’s why I’m a journalist and not a bioethicist.

Take the novel technique of fertility insurance through ovarian tissue cryopreservation (OCT). So far, nearly 30 babies in the US and Europe have been born to mothers who had a slice of their own frozen tissue grafted onto an ovary to restore their fertility. In all these cases the surgery was needed because the woman was about to have chemotherapy, which would destroy ovarian function.

Whenever this development has emerged in the media, a fertility specialist has described OCT as the best friend of an ambitious woman in her twenties because it stops her biological clock. After freezing ovarian tissue at an IVF clinic, she can shatter glass ceilings, make a motza, and marry Mr Right whenever she wants.

So what a surprise it was to read recently in the American Journal of Bioethics about OCT for a 2-year-old. Not in my wildest dreams had I thought of that!

The child had a rare form of sickle cell disease that required a bone marrow transplant. Her mother (no mention of a father) was worried that her daughter would be infertile, so she asked doctors for OCT. Ethicists were consulted and they gave the procedure the thumbs-up.

This extends the range of the market for OCT from 2 years to at least 70...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.