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Freezing your ovarian tissue can apparently help delay menopause


TextCharlotte Gush

The new 30-minute procedure can postpone the symptoms for up to 20 years

While we are no closer to the fantasy land of cryonics (freezing entire human bodies just after death, hoping to reanimate them in a technologically advanced future where death has been overcome), scientists say a new cryopreservation procedure could be used to delay the menopause. Nine women have undergone the initial phase of the procedure, which is available to women under 40 and costs £7,000 to £11,000 at Birmingham-based company ProFaM.

In the cryopreservation procedure, doctors remove ovarian tissue from premenopausal women and store it at a very low temperature, with a view to carefully reheating and reimplanting it back into the woman’s body potentially decades into the future. Frozen while in a more youthful condition, the ovarian tissue is grafted back into the older woman’s body in an area with good blood flow (such as the armpit). So long as it survives the reheating and grafting process, the cryopreserved tissue is expected to refresh the woman’s (naturally waning) supply of sex hormones and delay the menopause.

“This is the first project in the world to provide healthy women ovarian tissue cryopreservation purely to delay the menopause,” Yousri Afifi, chief medical officer of ProFam, told the Sunday Times this weekend. The length of delay depends on the age of the woman when the ovarian tissue was first removed. A woman in her twenties could expect a delay of up to 20 years, whereas a woman in her 40s may only achieve a delay of up to five years. Simon Fishel, an IVF doctor, president of the UK Care Fertility Group, and the founder of ProFaM, has noted that young women today are likely to spend 30 to 40 years of their life in the menopause.

While the procedure is promoted as an option for women who may face a variety of health problems that can be brought on by menopause – including heart conditions, osteoporosis, low mood, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, night sweats, hot flushes, and a reduced sex drive – the idea that menopause is a problem to be solved is controversial. “As feminism has long pointed out, most bodily experiences of women from menstruation to pregnancy to menopause without distinction tend to be regarded as a form of debilitation or illness,” Jacqueline Rose writes in her book, Mothers. “Although we should never underestimate the effects of an increasingly ruthless, profit-driven global economy, it seems that in all these cases there is something far more than a cost-benefit analysis involved,” she adds.

Speaking to the Mirror, Professor Joyce Wilson of the Institute for Women’s Health at UCL, agrees. "I’m at a loss as to why women would want to do this,” she says, explaining that because women have to start the procedure so young, they don’t know what their menopause will be like – also, delaying it for 20 years only means dealing with it later, in your 60s or 70s. “(T)here are now very good ways for women to keep the menopause under control with their lifestyle. If they have really severe symptoms then they can also go on HRT – which is considered to be relatively safe now.” Wilson also notes that ovarian tissue cryopreservation is already used (including by ProFaM) to preserve fertility for young women going through cancer treatment. “ProFaM has tried to look at another angle for how it can be used,” she says. “The technique can certainly delay the menopause, but I’m just not sure if women would want it to.”

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