Re: frozen ovaries

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Sun Nov 05 2000 - 23:47:12 MST

At 08:26 PM 5/11/00 -0800, you wrote:
>I read an article in the medical news a few months ago about a young
>woman who had her ovaries ... thawed, sewed back together and reimplanted.
>Did I dream this, or was there really such a case?

I believe it's been done. But maybe you're thinking of this passage from


Menopause marks a change in a body's response to these pituitary messages,
largely because a woman's ovaries are finally depleted of eggs. Unlike men,
 who keep producing spermatozoa all their lives, girls are born with a
limited supply. Once all the eggs are gone, the ovaries can no longer
respond to LH and FSH, even in elevated quantities - so other hormones
necessary for health, chemical messengers formerly made in those tissues,
simply dry up.
        That fact that ova are a finite resource is a reflection of the
evolutionary history of human ageing. A human female foetus contains a
startling seven millions eggs, which are screened and shed in vast
profusion during the course of her mother's pregnancy. At birth, the number
of ova in the new-born girl child is down to a million, and the number
keeps dropping through life - a quarter of a million at puberty, only
25,000 by around age 40. When a mere thousand or so remain, the subtle
feedback between pituitary and ovaries starts to shut down.
        It has been suggested that surgically removing and freezing some of this
wasted ovary tissue, transplanting it back in late middle age, might serve
to extend the hormonal protection granted to the reproductively able.
Indeed, experiments have shown that implanting ovary tissues from aborted
female foetuses (which contain, as mentioned, a huge supply of egg cells)
can extend an adult's sexual window. This is regarded by many as a
repugnant option, and has been banned in some countries, but the point
remains - it is the loss of eggs that activates the doleful cascade of
menopause, not the other way around.
        Once that happens, then, a menopausal woman's reproductive hormone system
starts to shut down, and the long-term consequences for the whole female
body are well-nigh catastrophic. As the least of her problems, fat is laid
down more readily in some places and less so in others, so an older woman's
body is likely to thicken and sag even as her features hollow and wrinkle.
Her bones grow brittle. And, for a time, `hot flushes' suffuse the whole
body as blood suddenly rushes into a woman's surface tissues, trying to
cool a body confused by the abrupt drop in levels of oestrogen. Luckily,
well-tailored Hormone Replacement Therapy can compensate for many of these
uncomfortable and injurious side-effects.
        So is menopause a selected, organised change in the human body's dynamic,
like the growth spurt and onset of sexual maturity in adolescence? Or is it
something more alarming - a simple failure of one life-support system after
another, driven by the loss of ova, the exhaustion of the ovaries, and the
consequent failure of all the reproductive machinery? Is the female human
body coded genetically to `degrade gracefully', as an engineer might put
it, or is post-menopause life just whatever happens after the final page of
the manual is turned and nothing more is written?
        Hormone replacement therapy already shows that we can stall some of these
uncomfortable and damaging changes, although sometimes at a price. [...]


Damien Broderick

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