When it comes to starting a family—or at least thinking about starting one—many women are freezing their eggs to help buy them some time without worrying so much about when their biological clock will stop ticking. But for twin sisters Sarah and Joanne Gardner, that wasn't enough. Essentially wanting to turn back the fertility clock—and even potentially reverse their menopause—the now 44-year-old twins opted to have their ovaries put on ice instead.
Freezing your ovaries and having them reimplanted is a fertility method that's usually reserved for cancer patients who wish to safeguard their fertility but don't have time to freeze their eggs, according to NPR. The method has been around since the 2000s, but Sherman Silber, M.D., director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis, who performed the first procedure on the Gardners in 2009, told NPR they may be the first non-cancer patients to have this done.
That doesn't mean it won't work, as researchers have seen success with the practice. A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that ovary freezing—known as ovarian tissue cryopreservation in the medical community—helped a third of the patients being studied successfully have a baby after going through cancer treatment as children. (The study authors say the surgery is currently offered to preserve the fertility of young patients battling malignant and nonmalignant diseases, where treatment could potentially affect future fertility.) The 2015 study also noted that at least 35 births have been successful in adult patients.
It's still a controversial method, though, because it hasn't been studied nearly as much as egg freezing has on women who simply want to delay childbearing. Plus, the American Society of Reproductive Method says the latter is much safer than going through two separate surgeries, which inherently carries some risk. (Here's what you need to know about freezing your eggs.)
That said, there are some reported upsides to the ovarian-freezing option. Silber tells NPR that not only is it more reliable, easier, and safer, but it also doesn't require women to subject themselves to weeks of hormonal injections like you do with egg freezing in order to ripen the eggs that are to be harvested. Plus, there's the cost: The total bill to remove, freeze, thaw, reimplant, and reattach an ovary is generally less than $3,000—a significant dip compared to the average $5,000 to $10,000 you'll pay to freeze eggs.
Both the Gardners were in their 30s when they first had their ovaries removed and frozen, and now that the ovaries were thawed and reimplanted in June, they're hoping that their age doesn't play as much of a role as it typically would. They're each hoping to get pregnant later this year.
"It's like we went in a time machine—a fertility time machine," Sarah Gardner told NPR. "It's amazing."
Now we'll just have to wait and see if it works.