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Belfast doc Sara Matthews pioneering frozen ovary transplants

New treatment giving hope to women left infertile as children by chemo that they can fall pregnant

By Claire McNeilly

A pioneering doctor from Northern Ireland has told the Belfast Telegraph about her role in a groundbreaking new treatment that has seen the frozen ovary of a woman re-implanted so she can have a baby.

Moaza Alnatrooshi had her ovary removed and frozen when she was just eight years old while being treated for an inherited blood disorder, beta thalassaemia.

It remained frozen until Sara Matthews, a consultant gynaecologist from Belfast who now works at the private Portland Hospital in London, sent the tissue to Denmark, where she helped transplant it back.

Now aged 23, Mrs Alnatrooshi is the youngest person to undergo the new treatment, and if it is successful she will be the first to become pregnant after having an ovary frozen before puberty.

It was removed as a precaution when she was a child, as the chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant she was about to have at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, can harm the ovaries.

With the transplant over, Mrs Alnatrooshi and her husband Ahmed have undergone IVF to increase their chances of pregnancy.

Three embryos have been produced - one of which is expected to be implanted next month.

Ms Matthews (47), a Queen's University graduate, said it offered an "amazing opportunity" for young girls who had previously undergone treatment that destroys the ovaries. "Girls who have devastating blood disorders, but are cured, can go on to have a normal life," she said.

If successful, it will give hope to thousands of other girls who are unable to conceive because their reproductive organs have been damaged by treatment for cancer and other diseases.

Dr Matthews, a past pupil of St Dominic's Grammar School and Methodist College, said: "This allows young girls who develop cancer or have other conditions that require chemotherapy, like beta thalassaemia, to have children, where the vast majority, over 90% would not be able to have their own children. There is no other way at the moment to do it. You cannot grow eggs.

"You can't do IVF (before the chemotherapy) because they haven't gone through puberty. It is the only option for them and we have been able to prove that. In practice, it works."

Ms Matthews said without her ovaries, Mrs Alnatrooshi had reached the menopause early aged just 21 - but the transplant had reversed it and her hormones were back to normal.

For Mrs Alnatrooshi, a Muslim, egg donation was not acceptable, meaning the new treatment was her only real chance to conceive.

Mrs Alnatrooshi, who is from Dubai but is in Britain for her treatment, told the Sunday Times she couldn't wait for a chance at motherhood.

"My mum did this huge thing for me, which is that she froze my ovary and saved it for me until I grew up and used it," she said.

"I want to believe I will be pregnant. I cannot wait for that day. I would like to say to all women that they have got to have hope."

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