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Kenya in major fertility breakthrough

By Gatonye Gathura | Published Sat, November 18th 2017 at 00:00, Updated November 18th 2017 at 00:01 GMT +3
Ovary transplant technology to help millions of young women with fertility challenges

In summary

  • Ovary transplant technology to help millions of young women with fertility challenges
  • Scientists describe milestone as the first ovarian tissue transplant in the world without use of toxic anti-organ rejection drugs

A team of Kenyan and foreign scientists has successfully tested what they describe as an effective ovary transplant technology in Nairobi.

This is described as the first ovarian tissue transplant in the world without using the normally highly toxic anti-organ rejection drugs.

Using a compound that occurs naturally in pregnant women, called PIF, the technology has shown capacity to effectively restore ovarian function in affected individuals.

“We are excited about this technology which will assist millions of young women who can’t get children due to premature ovary failure,” says Dr Atunga Nyachieo of the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) and a senior party in the study.

Located in Oloolua Forest along Forest Line Road in Karen, Nairobi, IPR is a biomedical research arm of the National Museums of Kenya and a collaborating centre for the World Health Organisation.

Dr Nyachieo, a seasoned biomedical researcher at IPR, says the technology is especially important for young women surviving cancer but losing ovarian function due to toxic cancer treatment.

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The researcher spoke to Saturday Standard on (November 13) two days after publication of their work in the prestigious Journal of Assisted Reproductive Genetics.

“For the first time in the world we managed to successfully transplant ovary tissue without use of anti-organ rejection drugs,” said Dr Nyachieo.

Current ovary transplant efforts have been characterised with high failure rates and long term use of highly toxic anti-rejection drugs.

Such drugs, the study says have been associated with serious side effects leading to diabetes, hypertension, cancer and kidney problems.

Consequently the search has been on for a suitable replacement for this life threatening drugs in ovary transplantation.

A few years ago American gynaecologist Dr Eytan Barnea discovered a compound secreted by the human embryo to protect itself against rejection by the pregnant woman’s body. It also occurs in other mammals.

This compound, called Preimplantation Factor (PIF), Dr Nyachieo says was what they successfully tested in Nairobi.

“We succeeded in proving that PIF can protect ovary transplant against rejection without using toxic drugs and importantly restore normal ovary function.”

Monthly cycle

The success, he says opens a whole new chapter in the science of organ transplant where PIF could be used safely in other types of operations.

The Nairobi research work involves some of the world’s top fertility experts from the Medical University of Vienna, Austria, University of Gothenburg, Sweden and University of Kansas of the US.

Most importantly it also involved two eight-year old female olive baboons (Papio anubis) at the IPR centre.

For the study, first the two baboons had their ovaries removed and then a thin, one millimetre ovarian tissue transplanted in a minor surgery.

The animals were also treated with synthetic PIF before and after the transplant to prevent rejection of the new tissue. The two were them monitored for nine months to asses any signs of organ rejection or restoration of normal ovary function such as the monthly cycle.

After the period, no signs of organ rejection had been recorded, says the study, while normal ovarian activity and monthly cycle had returned in one of the baboons.

“It worked,” says Dr Nyachieo. This he says demonstrates that ovarian function and related fertility can be restored safely and effectively through this new transplantation technology.

The next step, he says is to carry out clinical trials on human subjects which he is positive will work.

 “We are still at the early stages of planning for the next phase but logically it will involve clinical trials in human subjects,” says Dr Nyachieo.

“We used the baboon due to its similarity to humans in anatomy and menstruation pattern,” explains Dr Nyachieo.

On average the baboon menstrual cycle is 33 days with a duration of about three days which fall within the normal average for humans.

It is estimated that one per cent of women suffer Premature Ovarian failure (POF) or loss of normal function of the ovaries before age 40.

With POF a woman may not be able to produce normal amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly leading to infertility in most cases.

Restoring estrogen levels in women with premature ovarian failure helps prevent some complications, such as osteoporosis, that occur as a result of low estrogen.

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