Researchers have developed an artificial ovary to help women who are at risk of being infertile due to medical treatments.
A team of researchers from the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology at the University Hospital of Copenhagen Rigshospitalet has made an artificial ovary to help women going through fertility-harming treatments to conceive. The study will be presented at the 34th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Spain.
The new study can reportedly help women undergoing treatments for cancer like chemotherapy and radiotherapy which are extremely damaging to the ovaries and usually leave women infertile.
According to the researchers, their lab-made ovary could preserve human eggs for weeks at a time. The technique involves removing parts of a woman’s ovary and altering them so they can be kept and transplanted for future conception.
“The artificial ovary will consist of a scaffold (originating from the woman’s own tissue or from donated tissue) combined with her own follicles,” Dr. Susanne Pors, a co-author of the new study, said. “It is newly constructed, but biological.”
Pors and her colleagues believe that if an ovarian tissue scaffold could be bioengineered free of cancer, they could seed it with early-stage follicles that were frozen. These follicles, according to Pors, could eventually develop and grow naturally, restoring a woman’s fertility. Unlike ovarian tissues, follicles do not contain cancer cells.
“The follicle is formed during fetal life [when no cancer is present] and is surrounded by a basal membrane that does not allow cancer cells to penetrate,” she said.
During their experiment, the researchers used a three-day chemical process to ensure that all traces of cancer were eliminated. This left a decellularized scaffold consisting of proteins and collagen. They then seeded the scaffold with the early-stage follicles. The new biological material successfully allowed cells to interact with each other and develop.
“This is the first time that isolated human follicles have survived in a decellularized human scaffold,” Pors went on to say.
The study is still a proof-of-concept which could potentially pave the way for new methods to preserve fertility to be developed without the risk of cancer reoccurrence.