Can Menopause Be Delayed?

The first and only ovary transplant ever performed on a human took place last February at New York Methodist Hospital, CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports. Doctors are now finally confident that it worked and say it could have far-reaching implications for young women facing the loss of their fertility.

"I would characterize this procedure as showing the early signs of success," said Dr. Kutluk Oktay, who performed the surgery.

The patient was a 30-year-old dancer named Margaret Lloyd-Hart, who lost both of her ovaries and was suffering through premature menopause. She had frozen one ovary in the hopes that one day she could replace it. Her main goal at the time was only to relieve the symptoms of menopause.

"I'd like to get my normal cycles going again," said Lloyd-Hart, "to sleep well again and just get on with my dance career."

Dr. Oktay had studied ovary implantation in animals for years and Lloyd-Hart agreed to let him try his technique on her.

Before the implantation could even begin, a more delicate laboratory process took place, in which tiny fragments of Lloyd-Hart's frozen ovarian tissue were thawed out and carefully stitched back together.

The patchwork of ovarian tissue was then inserted and attached to the original location of the removed ovary. It was stimulated with fertility drugs, and about four months later, the transplanted ovary produced an egg.

"Until I saw the first egg developing, I didn't believe," said Dr. Oktay. "I hoped, but I didn't believe that we would reach this result this soon."

Fertility specialists warn this is not a magic procedure to reverse either menopause or infertility, but instead fulfills a very distinct need.

Dr. Robert Stillman of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says, "It would only be a cure for those undergoing premature menopause based on chemotherapy radiation or surgery, where their natural fertility would be interrupted."

The side effects of surgical menopause include infertility, hot flashes, heart disease, and bone loss. Until now, doctors have prevented these unwanted side effects by giving hormone replacement therapy, reports CBS This Morning Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay. The new technique may one day stop these side effects, and preserve their fertility.

For women who lose ovary function as a result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the procedure could help them after their cancer treatment. Healthy ovarian tissue could be stored for decades and then re-implanted in these women.

However, the transplant would not help women with diseased ovaries, and it cannot preserve fertility for women who want to delay having children into their 40's and 50's.

The breakthrough carries much potential for women who have long been held hostage by their biological clocks, raising the possibility that motherhood might one day be able to be postponed.

[For more nformation related to this story, see Menopause At 30? Not Exactly.]