Progress made in artificial ovaries
Scientists have made “exciting” progress in the development of artificial “ovaries” to help preserve women’s fertility.
Immature eggs have been shown in a laboratory to survive on ovarian tissue that was removed from cancer patients before treatment and stripped of cells.
It is hoped this engineered structure could be re-implanted into women and restore fertility, after they have completed chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
Scientists from the Rigshospitalet, in Copenhagen, Denmark, proved the graft worked when using human tissue transplanted into mice. Experts said the research, presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) annual meeting in Barcelona, “holds much promise for the future”.
Many cancer treatments can damage the ovaries, stopping the body from producing eggs and meaning a woman cannot get pregnant.
Women who have cancer can have their eggs frozen, while some doctors may offer to remove or freeze all or part of an ovary, so it can be transplanted back after treatment. However, there is a small chance that grafted ovarian tissue could reintroduce cancer cells. A ‘bio-engineered’ ovary would reduce this risk.
Their experiments used ovarian tissue removed from women trying to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment. The cells from the tissue were eliminated using chemicals, leaving behind a “bio-engineered scaffold” on which the early-stage egg containing follicles were reseeded.
Dr Susanne Pors, who presented the research, said: “This is the first time that isolated human follicles have survived in a decellularised human scaffold and, as a proof-of-concept, it could offer a new strategy in fertility preservation, without risk of malignant-cell recurrence.”
Experiments in which the structure was transplanted into mice showed it could support the survival and growth of the follicles.
Professor Nick Macklon, medical director at London Women’s Clinic, said it was an “exciting development”.
“They’ve been able to show that they can then introduce back into that tissue stored follicles and early growth eggs, that then appear to grow in that material that’s had all the cells removed,” he said.