Forty years since IVF gave hope for life

Sophie Moore

Having a baby wasn't something 21-year-old Rachell Kleiner was thinking about as she finished university.

But when a lump in her throat turned out to be much more than tonsillitis the thought of children, as well as her future, came into sharp relief.

Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Ms Kleiner's oncologist said they couldn't afford to wait for weeks of hormone therapy to push production of viable eggs.

Instead, a sample of her ovarian tissue was removed and frozen.

It allowed her to immediately begin the six, gruelling months of aggressive chemotherapy which saved her life.

"Cut to 14-years years later and my husband and I are trying to start a family and I have difficulty getting pregnant," Ms Kleiner told AAP.

She suffered a miscarriage and endured three failed rounds of IVF treatment.

"It's really hard, it takes over your life," she said.

"Everything is on a schedule and it puts a lot of pressure on your partner."

And even with a loving partner and family, the treatments are a load which is carried alone, Ms Kleiner said.

"No-one will truly understand until they've been through it themselves."

The first IVF-conceived Australian, Candice Reed, is set to celebrate her 40th birthday on Tuesday.

It's a personal milestone which also marks two score years of "outrageous" progress in fertility research, according to Professor William Ledger.

The head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Sydney's The Royal Hospital says he and his colleagues had no idea fertility treatments would become such an integral part of mainstream medicine.

"It's gone from a totally experimental, hit and miss affair to a really efficient, patient-friendly process," Prof Ledger told AAP.

The Oxford graduate thinks "clever tech" and other advancements are impressive but the best part of his job is when former patients drop by for a visit.

"When they come back in with a young child, a new human life, and the person is now a mum or a dad, knowing we helped do that. Fantastic," he said.

In November, The Royal opened a new laboratory for its Women's Fertility and Research Centre (FRC), becoming the only public hospital in Australia to have a dedicated fertility service for people with cancer.

It meant Prof Ledger's team was able to put back the ovarian tissue removed from Ms Kleiner 14 years ago.

The procedure has only been done twice in NSW, once successfully.

Ms Kleiner, who had hers done in December, is still waiting on the results.

There is a very small risk the tissue could be malignant, she said.

But she is happy to be a guinea pig if it offers a chance to become a parent.

"We're told all the time woman's fertility takes a dive after 35. It's basically putting thousands of my 21-year-old eggs inside a 35-year-old me," she said.

There are currently 200 samples from young women and children, waiting in freezers until needed.

Prof Ledger said sometimes it won't work but sometimes it can work for several years.

It offers women more than a chance at fertility, he said.

"Young women pushed into menopause at 25, sometimes they might get their ovarian function back and have their menstrual cycle for a few years. Imagine how that would feel."

The FRC is holding Hearts for Her on June 23, a campaign to raise awareness of women's health with donations to fund further research.