Irish Examiner

Progress made in artificial ovaries

- Sally Wardle

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.

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