Thousands of British women left infertile after cancer treatment have been given new hope by the world's first birth of a baby following an ovarian transplant.

Thousands of British women left infertile after cancer treatment have been given new hope by the world's first birth of a baby following an ovarian transplant.

More than 18,000 women under the age of 44 are diagnosed with cancer in Britain each year and treatment will leave 75 per cent of them infertile. But the new procedure will offer them hope. The only unit in the country banking ovarian tissue for women said it expected to see a surge of interest following the birth in Belgium of an 8lb baby girl seven years after her mother became infertile through chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer.

Ouarda Touirat gave birth to Tamara on Thursday. Doctors at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels removed one of her ovaries before the treatment began and froze the tissue before transplanting it back into her body last year, after she was cured.

Her menstrual cycle was restored five months later, and in January she conceived naturally with her husband, fellow Algerian, Malike.

The 32-year-old mother told a news conference on Friday: "It's a message of hope and a miracle for us."

British doctors hailed the Belgian team's success yesterday and said it would open up new possibilities for cancer sufferers in the UK.

The Human Reproductive Science Unit in Edinburgh, run by the Medical Research Council, is the only unit in Britain that is currently banking ovarian tissue for women.

Richard Anderson, who is leading the research, said ovarian tissue from "a couple of dozen" women had been stored over the past decade, but none had been re-implanted.

"Many of our patients are still young and are not at the stage where they want a family. Not all have been left infertile by cancer treatment, and some have died." He said he expected a surge of interest following the Belgian success.

"We have offered [ovarian transplantation] to women but many have declined. Until now, it was unproven and it does involve going through an operation. For many women coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, it was not what they wanted. But I expect to get a different response from women in the future."

Scientists have spent 15 years trying to transplant human ovaries and restore fertility to women who have suffered an early menopause. The first ovary transplant of this sort was performed in 1999, but the Belgian team, led by Professor Jacques Donnez, is the first to achieve a live birth.

Critics have warned that the technique could raise serious ethical issues if women seek to use it to beat the menopause by extending their reproductive life into their fifties and sixties.

Professor Donnez ruled that out. "This technique must be reserved for young women with cancer," he said.

KATY'S CHANCE

The birth of Tamara Touirat has filled Katy Oliver with hope. Four years ago, Ms Oliver, then suffering from cancer, had a section of her ovaries frozen, hopeful that one day a transplant might be possible.

Ms Oliver, now 20, was 16 when she underwent a chemotherapy course to destroy the cancer in her shoulder.

"When I had the initial operation it was a tiny bit of hope," she says. "It was the only thing they offered me. But the shock of being diagnosed with cancer means you're not really thinking about anything else. But there was still a tiny part of me that wanted to prepare for the future."

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