Scientists have successfully created an artificial ovary, which could have a major impact on the fertility of women going through cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Such treatments increase the risk of infertility as they can stop the ovaries from working properly.
In an attempt to help prevent infertility among these groups, researchers from Denmark have, for the first time, been able to isolate and grow human follicles on a bioengineered ovarian “scaffold” made of ovarian tissue – an artificial ovary. Importantly, scientists were able to strip this tissue of native cells to reduce the risk of cancer returning.
The discovery has been hailed as “exciting” by fertility experts.
Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create Fertility, told HuffPostUK it was an “exciting development which gives hope to young women with cancer ”.
“It is a proof of concept at this stage and requires further work in humans to establish safety and efficacy,” she said. “If it works, it can be life-changing for women with cancer. Ovarian transplantation can allow natural conception without the reliance on IVF.”
Experiments were performed with ovarian tissue removed from women having fertility preservation ahead of cancer treatment.
Most cases of fertility preservation where ovarian tissue is frozen are performed ahead of cancer treatment. 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.
In the experiment, native cells were eliminated by a three-day chemical process.
Removal of these cells left a “scaffold” of the original tissue. It was this bioengineered scaffold on which the isolated early-stage follicles then attached to. The findings were shared at an ESHRE conference in Barcelona on 2 July.
Dr Susanne Pors, who led the research, said “a bioengineered ovary would allow the growth and development of reseeded frozen-thawed early stage follicles in a tissue bed which is free of malignancies”.
Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist and reproductive surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, told The Telegraph: “It’s very exciting.
“The beauty of this is that many of the women who are having ovarian grafts can go and get pregnant naturally, and don’t need to go through IVF. That is a huge advantage.”