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Transplant of ovarian tissue frozen years ago holds hope of life

Ovarian tissue that was frozen a decade ago was implanted last week in a 25-year-old cancer survivor who hopes that reviving the tissue from suspended animation will allow her to start a family.

The procedure – which involves myriad disciplines in medicine, cell biology and surgery – is known as an ovarian transplant and was performed at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, marking a series of “firsts.”

It was the first ovarian transplant on Long Island, the first performed anywhere on an outpatient basis and the first such transplant to involve a surgical robot.

A team accomplished the two-hour procedure recently, led by Dr. Kutluk Oktay, the surgeon-scientist who was the first in the world to perform the technique nearly two decades ago at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, now part of the NewYork-Presbyterian Regional Hospital network. This time around, the multi-armed Da Vinci surgical robot was instrumental in the transplant.

“I developed the procedure and my first case was in 1999; it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine,” said Oktay, an attending physician at NYU Winthrop and a leading expert in the field of fertility preservation. He also is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

He studied with scientific teams in this country and abroad to create a method of preserving fertility for young women diagnosed with cancer and at risk of never having children. Harsh cancer therapies induce menopause, and hence infertility.

The good news: About 90 babies have been born via ovarian transplants since the early 2000s.

Oktay’s patient at NYU Winthrop, whom he has known since 2007, did not want to disclose her name. But she gave her doctor permission to convey highlights of her long and arduous medical journey.

“She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 15, which required a bone marrow transplant. Patients receive huge doses of chemo and radiation, which can wipe out all of the eggs,” Oktay said. “Prior to her leukemia treatment, I removed one of her ovaries, which contained all of the immature eggs at that time.”

Ovaries are twin reproductive organs, each about the size of a walnut, that produce ova, or egg cells. Each egg cell possesses 23 chromosomes, which is the maternal half of a baby’s full genetic dowry of 46. Each parent donates 23 at the moment of conception.

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Transplant of ovarian tissue frozen years ago holds hope of life

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