Now, women can delay menopause by 20 years and even have kids in between. This is how

Michael Powell and Lara Keay

Women can delay the menopause by up to 20 years with a new 30-minute operation that tricks their biological clocks into thinking they are much younger than they are.

The revolutionary procedure is set to transform the lives of thousands of women who suffer severe side effects of the menopause, such as osteoporosis and heart problems.

For millions more, the appeal of delaying the menopause would be a reduction of often debilitating physical and emotional problems such as hot flushes, a reduced sex drive, night sweats and mood swings.

The surgical procedure, devised by the fertility expert who pioneered IVF, sees tissue from the ovaries, thawed, and then transplanted back into the armpit. 

It also has the potential to extend fertility – though doctors say the aim is to postpone the menopause rather than give women the chance to have babies into their 60s.

According to The Sunday Times, nine British women, aged between 22 and 36, have already undergone the surgical procedure, which is being offered privately to any British woman up to the age of 40. 

A 10th British woman, Dixie-Louise Dexter, from Woodville in Derbyshire, has also undergone the procedure and called the experience 'life-changing'.

How can doctors delay the menopause with ovarian grafting?  

Ovarian grafting, or ovarian tissue cyropreservation, involves taking healthy tissue from a woman's ovaries to delay the onset of menopause. 

A woman in her twenties and or thirties can undergo the procedure to delay menopause and the unpleasant side effects that include hot flushes and mood swings.

The 30-minute operation, available privately in the UK, sees a surgeon take healthy cells from the woman's ovary and freeze them in conditions of -150C. 

Whenever the patient wants, they can be thawed and reinserted through the armpit.

When the ovarian tissue starts to function it produces hormones that prevent menopause from happening.  

The 33-year-old teacher had been diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 20 and underwent a hysterectomy last year.

She underwent the operation at the same time as having the pioneering menopause treatment, and had her ovarian tissue immediately placed back inside her.

As a result, she claims she no longer suffers from side effects such as pain, mood wings and a bad night's sleep. 

She said: 'I was first diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 20 years old. I had about 12 years of going through all sorts of different things. 

'I'd had six laparoscopies and I'd got to the point where I needed to do something to take control of the situation.

'I thought my final option to win the battle was to have a hysterectomy. 

'It was something I had thought about for a number of years. My husband and I decided together that my quality of life was more important than anything else.'

But when she came in for her consultation, specialists told her about a procedure called ovarian grafting - and that she could treat her condition - and delay the onset of menopause at the same time.   

How the mother of a surgeon's struggle with menopause inspired an operation to delay it 

The idea of tricking a woman's biological clock to delay the menopause was inspired by a surgeon's mother.

Professor Christiani Amorim, 48, of the University of Louvain in Belgium wrote one of theses on ovarian tissue cyropreservation - or ovarian grafting. 

She was looking at it with the view of restoring reproductive function for women who want babies. 

But as her mother struggled with the hot flushes of the menopause, she thought - 'why don't we apply this as a strategy to postpone the menopause?'

The Brazilian-born mother-of-four went on to co-found ProFam, the private medical firm offering ovarian grafting to women in the UK. 

But it wasn't until she linked up with Simon Fishel, the IVF doctor behind the first-ever test tube baby Natalie Brown. 

He had the same idea and the pair set on making their dream a reality.

She said: 'I was a little anxious at first because I hadn't heard of it. 

'But going away from the hospital I felt really lucky that I'd been chosen to have surgery like that, because it was so new and because of the benefits it could have. 

'I'd had symptoms in the past, so I didn't want to experience the hot flushes, the mood swings and all the things that go along with the menopause. That was a huge bonus for me.'

More than a year after her surgery, Dixie-Louise is fully recovered and pain-free, adding: 'My quality of life has improved dramatically. 

'I am pain free. I no longer have mood swings, hot flushes, I don't wake up in the night any more.

'I can't believe something so simple that was already inside me has changed my life completely.

'It's been a really hard road to get here, but I would choose this a million times over.'   

The procedure works by taking some of ovarian tissue and freezing it at minus 150C, before storing it in an ice bank.

When the woman reaches the menopause, it is thawed and transplanted back, kick-starting the natural hormones that stave off the menopause.

The operation is currently only available at the Birmingham-based private company ProFam (Protecting Family and Menopause), which is run by Mr Simon Fishel, a professor, an IVF pioneer whose work led to the birth of Natalie Brown, the sister of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown. 

It costs between £3,000 and £7,000 for the removal and storage of ovarian tissue, plus a further £4,000 for when it is transplanted back in.

One of the nine patients who has undergone the procedure said she wanted to avoid having to take HRT medication in the future.

What is the menopause and when does it happen?

Menopause occurs when a woman stops having periods and can no longer fall pregnant naturally.

It is a natural part of ageing, which occurs in women between 45 and 55 years old.

However 1 in 100 women can experience menopause before the age of 40, which is known as premature menopause or premature ovarian insufficiency.

Symptoms often include hot flushes, night sweats, low mood, reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness, an increase in facial hair and difficulty sleeping.

According to NHS advice, symptoms can begin months or even years before your periods stop and last around four years after your last period.

Premature or early menopause can occur at any age, and in many cases, there's no clear cause.

Professor Fishel said: 'Women are living longer than at any time in human history.

'It's quite likely that many women will be in the menopause for longer than their fertile period. 

We are empowering women to take control of their own health by naturally delaying their menopause.'

A version of the technique called ovarian tissue cryopreservation has already preserved fertility in women starting treatment for cancer.

However, ProFam is the first to offer women free from disease the chance to freeze their ovarian tissue to delay their menopause, which happens when levels of the hormone oestrogen fall as a result of ovaries no longer producing eggs.

'We are at a fascinating point in the evolution of our species, but particularly in relation to medical care where remarkable things are happening,' added Fishel.

'Now we can start to offer something to a younger generation of women that's never been available before.'

 

Compiled by Olalekan Adeleye

MailOnline

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