Early Success in Artificial Ovary Research

From the WebMD Archives

An early advance in efforts to develop artificial ovaries for women with cancer who are at risk of becoming infertile has been achieved by scientists.

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can damage the ovaries and leave women infertile. In some cases, all or part of the ovary is removed before those cancer treatments and frozen so that it can be used in the future, BBC News reported.

However, there is a slight risk that the ovarian tissue may contain cancer cells, putting a woman at risk for the return of her cancer.

In this new research, scientists in Denmark removed ovarian follicles and ovarian tissue from women due to have cancer treatment. They removed cancer cells from the ovarian tissue, leaving behind a "scaffold" made up of proteins and collagen, BBC News reported.

The team then grew ovarian follicles on this scaffold of ovarian tissue. This artificial ovary was then transplanted into mice, where the ovarian cells survived and grew.

The research was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

This is an "exciting" technique, but still requires testing in humans, experts said. Such testing is expected to be conducted over the next few years, BBC News reported.

This approach could enable women who've become infertile to get pregnant "naturally", instead of having to rely on in vitro fertilization (IVF), Stuart Lavery, consultant gynecologist, Hammersmith Hospital, U.K., told BBC News.

Another advantage of ovarian tissue transplants is that women who've become infertile due to medical treatments could start having periods again, eliminating the need for hormone replacement therapy, according to Dr. Gillian Lockwood, medical director, Midlands Fertility Services, U.K.