Researchers develop artificial ovary to prevent infertility among women suffering with cancer

It is hoped an engineered structure could be re-implanted into women and restore fertility after they have completed chemotherapy or radiotherapy

"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.

Removal of these cells left a "scaffold" of the original tissue. When she is ready for pregnancy, she can opt for in vitro fertilization methods, they explain.

Because our current anti-cancer standbys - chemotherapy and radiotherapy - often damage the stash of follicles present in each woman's ovaries since birth, those who want to conceive after treatment have two options: have a handful of these cell clusters harvested beforehand then turn to IVF when they reach remission, or have the entire ovary harvested then re-implanted. Therefore, women are advised to take measures to preserve their fertility before undergoing treatment.

In their recent experiment, the scientists took ovarian follicles and tissue from patients before they received cancer treatment and proceeded to remove the cancerous cells from the collected tissue, filling up the gaps with a "scaffold" made up of proteins and collagen. Pors and her team will reveal more on the research Monday at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona, Spain. The researchers seeded this structural matrix with early-stage follicles. Women who go through early menopause can also benefit from it. Brison, who was not involved in the study, noted that the use of decellularized scaffolds is common in regenerative medicine, where tissues derived from stem cells are transplanted back into patients.

Though this approach might work, he concluded that "it is not possible to tell until the data from this research group have been peer-reviewed by the scientific community and published in a scientific journal". But scientists said using the original frozen tissue runs the risk of the cancer returning - this risk is high for patients with leukaemia and cancers originating in the ovary.

Study's author and postdoctoral fellow, Susanne Pors from the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology at the University Hospital of Copenhagen Rigshospitalet said in a statement, "We have now done the first important steps towards constructing a cancer-free ovary.We have many more studies to do, but this is a proof-of-concept showing that human eggs can survive on a newly constructed scaffold". The synthetic organ will be made from a woman's own tissue before being transplanted into her body to tackle infertility.

A review published this year by Pors and her co-authors reported that a total of 318 women worldwide had undergone ovarian tissue transfers, with nine receiving a diagnosis of cancer afterward (in all cases not directly caused by the procedure). "But it will be many years before we can put this into a woman".

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