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A Deep Freeze For Your Ovaries

a blog by Suzanne Rico, April 25, 2012

This might sound a little like “The Bride Of Frankenstein meets Infertility,” but the medical technology now exists to extract a woman’s ovary from her body, freeze it and put it back in years later when she’s ready to have kids. To someone who spent the first 36 years of her life completely ignoring these tiny reproductive organs (and then expected them to work perfectly on demand as my biological clock’s ticking grew louder), this breakthrough sounds like having all your eggs stored in one very safe basket.

Sherman Silber, M.D., a fertility doctor with The Infertility Center Of St. Louis pioneered the ovarian transplant procedure. It began as a way to help cancer patients preserve their fertility before damaging chemotherapy treatments, but it is now being offered to women who want to bank their ovarian tissue in order to retain the option of having children later in life. Silber has done 140 ovarian tissue transplants, and back when I was chasing babies, I would have loved to have had this high-tech alternative to shooting myself full of fertility drugs and laying eggs by the meager half dozen.

Here’s how it works: in an outpatient laparoscopic procedure, Silber removes the thin outer layer of a woman’s ovary that contains all the eggs and freezes it in liquid nitrogen. Later, that layer is reattached to the ovary, (which has been resting inside the woman’s body) and — voila! — normal egg production resumes within a few months. Dr. Silber, a legend in the infertility field, quotes a staggering success rate.

“The real breakthrough is that the procedure works almost all the time,” says Dr. Silber. “The science and miracle treatment is perfected already. What we need next is a paradigm shift in the awareness of society about this, because most cancer patients don’t even know it is available to them.”

Dr. Silber won’t take a fee from cancer patients for ovarian tissue transplants (this guy really is the embodiment of the old time country doctor beamed into the middle of 21st Century medicine) but he says he wants all young women to know that their 20s and early 30s are the time to think about their future family—even if they don’t want babies yet. This will help them avoid becoming part of what he sees as an epidemic increase in infertility.

“It’s about saving an ovary,” he says. “It’s about saving fertility. If they’ve got their 25-year-old ovary in the freezer, they don’t need to think about it until they’re 40.”

Like I said, it’s a little hard to get your head around, but this may just be the wave of the future.

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