Belgian day-old baby Tamara Bouanati nestles in her mother's arms at the Cliniques Universitaires of Saint Luc in Brussels
Francois Lenoir  /  Reuters
Belgian day-old baby Tamara Bouanati nestles in the arms of her mother Ouarda Touirat, 32. Touirat beat cancer and gave birth after an ovarian tissue transplant. staff and news service reports
updated 10/4/2004 2:14:24 PM ET 2004-10-04T18:14:24

A Belgian woman has given birth to the first baby born after an ovarian tissue transplant, a medical advance that gives hope to young cancer patients whose fertility may be damaged by chemotherapy.

The baby, a healthy girl named Tamara, was born at 7:05 p.m. on Thursday in a hospital in Brussels and weighed 8.2 lb. Her mother is Ouarda Touirat, 32, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The birth, announced by The Lancet medical journal, which is to publish the results of the procedure Friday, marks the first time fertility has been restored to a woman after doctors cut out and froze some of her ovarian tissue and transplanted it back into her body years later.

“The mother and baby are in excellent health,” the spokeswoman told Reuters. “This astonishing feat gives tremendous hope to all women rendered infertile by cancer treatments,” the hospital added in a statement.

Doctors led by Professor Jacques Donnez, head of the Department of Gynecology and Andrology at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc, removed and froze ovarian tissue from Touirat in 1997, when she was 25.

Five years after she was cleared of cancer, the tissue was grafted back onto her fallopian tubes.

Touirat had Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma and needed both chemo- and radiotherapy. Such treatments can save patients’ lives but can also damage or destroy their fertility.

The ovarian transplant was carried out six years after her treatment, when doctors declared she was free of cancer. Four months after the ovarian tissue was transplanted Touirat’s ovarian function was restored.

Tamara was conceived naturally after the transplant.

Unprecedented birth method
“This unprecedented event, the culmination of 10 years of research by Professor Donnez and his team funded by the Televie and the FNRS, brings immense joy to the parents for whom this baby represents a true miracle,” the hospital said.

The operation — long hoped for by fertility specialists — has been developed over the last few years to help women whose ovaries are damaged or destroyed by cancer treatment or other major surgery.

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The technique has worked in monkeys, but until now has not resulted in a successful pregnancy in humans.

In this case, Dr. Jaques Donnez of the Catholic University, cut ovarian tissue out of a woman who was about to undergo chemotherapy and radiation for Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1997.

Using keyhole surgery, Donnez and his team took small samples from Touirat’s left ovary, cooled them to minus 196 degrees centigrade and stored them in liquid nitrogen.

“Ovarian tissue cryopreservation should be an option offered to all young women diagnosed with cancer, in conjunction with other existing options for fertility preservation,” Donnez said in a statement.

Women are born with a finite number of eggs which are formed in follicles in the ovaries. The number of eggs diminish as a woman ages until there are very few left and menopause begins.

Although the aim of the ovarian tissue transplant is to help young infertile cancer patients to become mothers, the advance could also enable women to postpone childbearing past the natural menopause by freezing tissue when they are young and having it transplanted later.

Other teams of scientists have been working on ovarian transplantation but the Belgian team said they were the first to achieve a pregnancy and now a birth.

Donnez and his team “have just achieved what no other team has ever managed before -- enabling a young patient cured of cancer to become a mother following autotransplantation of cryopreserved ovarian tissue,” the hospital said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report


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