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Impact story

Successful restoration of ovarian function in a young woman with cancer

1 Nov 2017

This case study forms part of our Investing for Impact report, looking at how MRC- funded research delivers impact. More can be found in the Investing for Impact section of our website.

Scientists at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health in the University of Edinburgh developed a new technique for restoring ovarian function in 2016. This technique led to the first UK woman giving birth following a transplant of her frozen ovary tissue.

The loss of fertility following cancer treatment is unfortunately common. High-dose chemotherapy drugs can render women infertile by damaging the eggs in their ovaries. Fertility preservation techniques have been available for many years, and the ability to freeze eggs or embryos has allowed many of these women to conceive and successfully carry pregnancies to full term. However, these procedures can be complex, time consuming, invasive, not always successful, and expensive.

The freezing of ovarian tissue offers an alternative that can help address the shortcomings presented by freezing eggs or embryos. Professor Richard Anderson and his team at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health in the University of Edinburgh have developed a technique which involves a minimally-invasive ‘keyhole surgery’ procedure to remove a small section of ovarian tissue. This tissue is then frozen and can be stored for several years until it is required for re-implantation. In a UK first, the team carried out this procedure on a 22 year old woman before she underwent treatment for kidney cancer. 10 years later in 2016, her surgical team re-implanted the thawed tissue sample and the woman was able to conceive and deliver a healthy baby at 36 weeks.

This remarkable achievement is the culmination of more than 20 years of hard work from Professor Anderson and his team.

“The storage of ovarian tissue to allow restoration of fertility after cancer treatment in girls and young women was pioneered in Edinburgh over 20 years ago, and it is wonderful to see it come to fruition. This gives real hope to girls and young women facing treatment that may cause them to become infertile, and shows how some medical advances can take a long time to show their benefits” - Professor Richard Anderson

Award details: G1100357


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Reproduction
  • Locations: Edinburgh
  • Type: Impact story, Success story