A new ovarian tissue freezing programme, designed to help women and girls about to be treated for cancer to preserve their fertility, has been launched at the Royal Free London.
The service, which is the first in the UK to be fully funded by the NHS, will enable specialists in cancer and blood disorders to refer patients to the Royal Free London ahead of their cancer treatments for ovarian tissue freezing and later implantation to restore their fertility and/or prevent early menopause. The new service will be offered to patients within the North Central London Clinical Commssioning Group (Islington, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Barnet) but is planned to expand across the UK soon.
The opening of the service was made possible after approval from the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which ensures that human tissue is used safely and ethically, and with proper consent.
For pre-pubertal girls and some women with hormone sensitive tumours (for example some types of breast cancer), ovarian tissue freezing is the only way that they can preserve their fertility.
The treatment involves the patient undergoing keyhole surgery to remove one ovary which can then be processed in the hospital’s Centre for Cell, Gene & Tissue Therapy laboratory, frozen and stored at -196 degrees centigrade, until the tissue is transplanted back to the patient when she has completed treatment.
Patients who are cured by their chemo/radiotherapy can have the cryopreserved ovary tissue recovered, thawed and surgically placed onto the remaining ovary or into the lining of the abdominal cavity. Around the world there have been around a hundred successful births as a result of this treatment and countless other women have benefited from restoration of their menstrual cycle after tissue implantation.
Paul Hardiman, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Free London and senior lecturer at the Institute for Women’s Health at UCL, said: “We have modelled our protocols on how it is done at the Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, one of the largest hospitals in Denmark, where they have been freezing human ovarian tissue since 1999. This is a well-established method in Europe, the US and Japan but the UK has lagged behind and patients often faced having to go abroad and pay to receive this treatment. At a time when patients need to concentrate on life-saving therapies this intervention needs to take place as quickly as possible.”
“What makes the Royal Free London so ideally suited to provide this service is that we have a unique mix of facilities and expertise in tissue freezing and cell therapy including Professor Barry Fuller, head of research for the UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science and Professor Mark Lowdell, Director of Cellular Therapeutics. We are also a leading kidney and liver transplant centre and the principle UK centre for cell and tissue medicines which has helped facilitate approval from the Human Tissue Authority. We are very grateful for the support from the Royal Free Charity over the past seven years which funded Natalie Getreu, a PhD student, who played an important role in enabling us to bring this to patients.”