Freezing Organs - A Revolutionary Approach To Transplantation

Published: 24 January 2002

A study published today in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature (Jan 24, 2002) presents a novel procedure for organ preservation. Investigators from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) have found that organs can be successfully transplanted following freezing and storage in liquid nitrogen.

This study demonstrates that the important variable of time may no longer be a concern for successful transplantation surgery. Traditionally, only freshly removed organs from a donor were suitable for transplantation because the organs remain viable for only a short period of time.

The research described by the McGill team is the first successful report in the world of freezing of an entire animal organ with its associated vasculature, followed by transplantation and return of normal physiological function.

The McGill team and their collaborators at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal used rat ovaries in their study. Following removal, the ovaries were perfused with a cryoprotectant agent, which protected them during the freezing process. The ovaries were then slowly cooled to a temperature of -1960C and placed in liquid nitrogen for storage. Before transplantation, the ovaries were removed from the liquid nitrogen and then thawed rapidly. The functioning of the cryopreserved ovaries was assessed ten weeks after the transplantation. Of the seven rats that received cryopreserved ovaries, four had restoration of ovarian function, with oestrogen production, follicle development and ovulation. One of the rats became pregnant with two fetuses.

According to Dr. Seang Lin Tan, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the MUHC, "These results have important implications for women and children undergoing sterilizing chemotherapy. This technique may permit these young women to preserve their fertility and be able to conceive naturally with their own eggs following successful chemotherapy." The technique also offers the theoretical possibility of postponing the menopause in healthy women. Finally, it is hoped that this success with ovaries may encourage renewed efforts elsewhere in transplantation medicine.

Funding for the research project was provided in part by the Royal Victoria Hospital Foundation and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

"Fertility after transplanting intact, cryopreserved ovaries," by X. Wang, H. Chen, H. Yin, S.S. Kim, S.L. Tan, R.G. Gosden.

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