SUNDAY TIMES - Lab ovaries could end infertility
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Sunday Times Lifestyle By SARAH KNAPTON, 2017-05-18 07:40:50.0

Lab ovaries could end infertility

3D printed ovaries could be used to produce healthy offspring. File photo.
Image: Times Media

Infertile women have been offered new hope after scientists 3D printed ovaries and used them to produce healthy offspring.

In a world first, US researchers created an artificial ovary and implanted it into a mouse, which went on to produce eggs, mate successfully and give birth to healthy pups.

Although the procedure has only been tested on animals so far, the long term aim is to help restore fertility and hormone production in women who have undergone chemotherapy and possibly other infertility issues, such as polycystic ovaries.

About 24,000 women of child-bearing age are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK, says Cancer Research UK.

"The real breakthrough here is we're building a real ovarian prosthesis and the goal of this is to be able to restore fertility to patients who have been sterilised by cancer treatment," said Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University, Illinois.

"Right now we're able to do that with mice and the goal is to provide this back to patients.

"Using bioengineering to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine. Our hope is that this will be the ovary of the future."

The prosthetic ovaries were printed using liquid gelatin made from broken-down collagen, researchers reported in the journal Nature Communications.

Alexandra Rutz added: "We have constructed these scaffolds out of gelatin and that is just collagen, and collagen is what gives us structure in our bones, in our skin."

The ovary walls were engineered to have a lattice-like, porous structure, so they could interact with bodily tissues and trigger the production of eggs, while also being strong enough for surgeons to implant.

The sac also allows room for the egg cells to mature and ovulate, as well as blood vessels to form within the implant, enabling the hormones to circulate in the bloodstream and trigger lactation after birth.

"The scaffold recapitulates how an ovary would function. We're thinking big picture, meaning every stage, so puberty through adulthood to menopause," said Monica Laronda, co-lead author of the research.

"What happens with some of our cancer patients is that their ovaries don't function at a high enough level and they need to use hormone replacement therapies to trigger puberty.''

The team is now working on enlarging the scaffold so that it could be tested on larger animals, and eventually humans.

Many cancer treatments can affect fertility because women are born with all their eggs and are unable to produce more if they are damaged. In some cases, chemotherapy can trigger sterility and early menopause.

Women can choose to have embryos, eggs or ovarian tissue frozen before treatment, but that can be difficult with ovarian or breast cancer.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK's head information nurse, said: "Fertility preservation is an important issue where treatment is likely to leave patients infertile.

"It's good to see research into new ways to maintain fertility. But so far this work has only been done in mice, so it's not yet clear whether it might be useful for people in the future."

However, a recent study by Edinburgh University found that in one case a drug combination used for Hodgkin's Lymphoma known as ABVD triggered the development of new eggs.

The researchers proved it is possible to reverse the clock and coax the ovaries back into a pre-pubescent state, where they begin to produce new eggs.

The researchers speculated that the shock of chemotherapy may trigger stem cells in the ovaries into producing new follicles, the hollow hair-like structures that produce a single egg. — The Daily Telegraph

This article was originally published in the Times.