The first big story of the meeting is the news that doctors can now take and freeze eggs from girls as young as five, preserving their fertility in the event that they suffer childhood cancers. The treatment offers the potential to store eggs from kids facing aggressive chemotherapy that is likely to leave them sterile in later life.
Many post-pubertal women already freeze eggs, sometimes because they have cancer, in other cases simply because they want to delay having children until later in life. But the outlook for young children diagnosed with cancer was very bleak, because it was not thought that mature eggs could be obtained from such young individuals. The only alternative – freezing the entire ovarian cortex, which contains egg-producing follicles – has a much lower success rate.
But now researchers led by Ariel Revel of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem have shown that follicles can be obtained from the embryonic tissue of girls as young as five. When treated with the right cocktail of hormones these can be coaxed into developing into mature eggs in the test tube – these eggs can then be frozen for later use.
Reaction to the news has been mixed – even the headline of the British sunday paper story that broke the news seemed to imply some ethical reservations. But overall the reaction has been positive – after all, despite the severity of many childhood cancers, survival rates hover between 70% and 90%, and anything that gives these kids a shot at one day becoming parents must surely be welcomed.