Dr. Silber explains pausing the biological clock on NPR.
When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started getting really worried about whether she’d ever have kids.
“I bought this kit online that said that they could tell you your ovarian reserve,” Gardner, now 40, says. These kits claim they can tell women how long their ovaries will continue producing eggs and how much time they have left to get pregnant.
“Well, mine said, ‘we advise really you have a baby now.’ Well, sadly that letter arrived three weeks after I just split up with my long-term partner. So, yeah, it opened a massive can of worms really,” she says.
That can of worms eventually led Gardner to Sherman Silber, a surgeon at the Infertility Center of St. Louis. Silber offers women a procedure that he claims will basically put their biological clocks on ice.
“It stops the clock, which is an incredible power to have,” Gardner says. “You know, the biological clock is every woman’s demon, really.”
What Silber offers is a surgical procedure that removes part or all of an ovary so it can be frozen and then transplanted back when a woman is ready to try to have children.
“We can take the ovary out of a young woman or part of an ovary … and we can freeze it,” Silber says. “And when she’s 51-years-old we can transplant that tissue that’s been frozen for the last 20 or 25 years and lo-and-behold she’s got a 20-year-old ovary, and it’ll last for another 50 years.”
Ovary transplantation and freezing was developed by Silber originally for women with medical problems that would damage their ovaries, such as cancer patients or multiple sclerosis patients getting chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants.
Silber is one of just a handful of pioneering doctors doing this for patients just trying to beat their biological clocks. Other centers are all university based, in Denmark, Brussels, Paris, Valencia, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.
The surgical procedures and the freezing and thawing are relatively safe and easy, having been dramatically simplified by Silber over the last 15 years.
Silber says the success for cancer patients makes it clear the procedure would work for other women as well. In fact most of Silber’s cancer survivors state that they feel “fortunate” surprisingly that they had the cancer because while their girlfriends fear the ticking of their biological clock, these cancer patients have no such fear.
“If you say that we don’t have evidence for ovary-freezing working and that’s experimental, that’s kind of baloney,” Silber says. “It is not experimental anymore. It really is a very robust procedure.”
In fact, Silber argues it avoids the risks of egg-freezing, like having to inject women with lots of powerful hormones.
For her part, Sarah Gardner tried egg freezing, but it didn’t work out for her. So she’s happy she had the opportunity to freeze one of her ovaries.
“It took a lot of pressure off you know that whole having to find the guy and get it done you know and get to have children. There is no time limit for me now. They can defrost it at any point and put it back in,” Gardner says.
Gardner knows there are no guarantees. That after all this, it may not end up working. But for now, she’s just grateful for the hope that it will.