Women who undergo an ovarian transplant could be able to extend their biological clock indefinitely, a US surgeon has told a human reproduction conference in Istanbul this week.
Doctors have developed a technique for removing pieces of the ovary and storing it for decades before replacing it in the body, therefore delaying menopause and keeping women fertile, the UK's Daily Telegraph reported.
An older woman's physical ability to carry a baby would then be the only thing preventing her having a child, St Louis surgeon Dr Sherman Silber told the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting.
The technique was developed for use in women who had cancer that would have made them infertile. Slices of ovarian tissue were removed before chemotherapy, then replaced when the women went into remission. The technology allows them to be stored for decades.
Now, in good news for career women who want to delay starting a family, doctors say the approach could be extended for use in women without serious illnesses.
Dr Silber said 28 babies have been born to mothers who have undergone an ovarian tissue transplant around the world. Most of the babies were conceived naturally without use of IVF.
In one case, an Italian woman received an ovary transplant from her identical twin sister, and went on to have three children naturally.
"A woman born today has a 50 percent chance of living to 100. That means they are going to be spending half of their lives post-menopause," Dr Silber said.
"But you could have grafts removed as a young woman and then have the first replaced as you approach menopausal age. You could then put a slice back every decade. Some women might want to go through the menopause, but others might not."
Delaying menopause has positive outcomes, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, which usually increases at the end of a woman's reproductive life. But the doctors said it could increase women's risk of breast and womb cancer, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Initially surgeons thought a woman who had an ovary transplant only had a small window of opportunity to fall pregnant, however transplants carried out eight years ago are still working now. In fact, one Belgian woman had a baby after her ovarian tissue was stored for 10 years.
"It's really fantastic, we didn't expect a little piece of ovarian tissue to last this long," Dr Silber said.
"Most of our cured cancer patients, who have young ovarian tissue frozen, feel almost grateful they had cancer, because otherwise they would share this same fear all modern, liberated women have about their 'biological clock'."
Doctors said it could also work well for women from families with a history of early menopause.