Researchers build ‘artificial ovary’

Several weeks ago it was reported barcodes can be placed on in vitro fertilized eggs now one of the acclaimed scientific breakthrough of 2010 is the contruction of an artificial ovary

The articficial ovary is really a 3-D tissue structure with all three of the main cell types that make up a human ovary – so it’s functional tissue, not just a cell culture, something that’s never been done before, said Dr. Sandra Carson, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Women & Infants, Providence, USA.

Researchers at Brown University have built an “artificial ovary” that can fully mature human eggs in the lab, an advance they say could dramatically improve the odds for women hoping to have a baby after chemotherapy or other treatments.

In in vitro fertilization a patient takes drugs to make multiple eggs mature in her ovaries, and then they’re harvested, fertilized in the lab, and eventually re-implanted in her body.

Already a technique exist for maturing eggs in the lab- IVM (in vitro maturation] in which the woman is given a much-smaller dose of hormones, and eggs are harvested at an earlier stage and matured in the lab, then fertilized and implanted as with IVF.

But even the IVM process is taxing for a woman, and it takes time that patients may not have if they urgently need chemotherapy or another life-saving treatment.

Doctors in the near future may just take a quick biopsy of one of their ovaries, packed with hundreds or thousands of oocytes – rather than the 15 or 20 eggs typically harvested in IVM – and mature them from start to finish in the lab.

A woman who is sick cannot take hormones so they will not have to worry about taking fertility drugs, and could start chemo that same day, not wait for weeks.

Current technology doesn’t allow that – it’s been done in rats, but human oocytes never quite mature properly. But the new “artificial ovary,” Researchers said, could change that.

The tissues were developed by Dr. Stephan Krotz, a Houston fertility doctor who was a fellow in Carson’s lab. He, in turn, used so-called “3-D Petri dishes” created by Jeffrey Morgan, a Brown associate professor of medical science and engineering.

The dishes are made of a moldable agarose gel that provides a nurturing template to encourage cells to assemble into specific shapes. In experiments, the ovary tissues grown in the dishes were able to mature from the early antral follicle stage to full maturity.

Along with fertility preservation applications, Carson said, the tissues could provide a valuable research environment to study how different ovary cells interact and how they respond to chemicals and environmental toxins.

Read the article in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics describes the innovation.


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