A toddler from Britain has become the youngest patient to have her eggs frozen, in order to preserve her chance of having a family of her own one day.
The two-year-old, who has not been named, is suffering with cancer and is due to undergo chemotherapy – something which can leave patients infertile.
To enable the girl a chance at having kids of her own, Ovary tissue was removed, the eggs developed in an incubator and then frozen for later use.
The plan is that if the girl wants to conceive in future, they will be able to defrost the eggs and reimplant.
Surgeons took tiny immature cells called oocytes and growing them into mature egg cells in the lab. These cells will then be implanted if and when they are needed.
The problem with carrying out this kind of procedure on such a young child is that the egg cells are extremely small, explains Tim Child, medical director of the Oxford Fertility Unit, which carried out the operation. But if this procedure is successful it will bring hope to thousands, he says.
"I think this is great on two fronts,” Dr Childs said of the procedure.
“Cancer treatment can be very successful but the drugs can completely damage the ovaries.
"This gives hope to young girls who could otherwise be sterilised by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. It's giving them the hope of one day having children.”
He added that the technique has wider implications, as it suggests an unlimited number of eggs could be developed in the lab.
Women are born with around two million oocytes, but by puberty the number has fallen to around 400,000. But over a reproductive lifetime, a woman will release just 400 egg cells – a fraction of what she is born with.
While it remains to be seen whether these frozen eggs will lead to a pregnancy, Mr Child says he is “extremely hopeful.”
"It could be two or three decades before children given the treatment now want to start a family. I am extremely hopeful and excited to think where we could be in 20 or 30 years when these patients want to start a family."
In 2014, the world’s first birth from frozen ovary tissue took place. A 28-year-old in Belgium gave birth after having her tissue collected at 13, just before starting chemotherapy.
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