Artificial ovary could help women conceive after chemotherapy

Artificial ovary could help women conceive after chemotherapy

Researchers in Denmark have made the first steps towards creating an "artificial" ovary in what could improve fertility preservation treatments.

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.

According to Pors and her team, if the ovarian tissues can be bioengineered onto a scaffold and seeded with previously frozen early-stage follicles, these could go on to develop naturally and could help in bringing the fertility back in the patient without the risk of her getting possible cancer cells reintroduced within her body. She presented the results at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology's annual conference in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday. They also successfully grafted follicles which then grew to become normal eggs.

One way women can preserve their chances of conceiving is with an ovarian tissue transplant, where all or part of the ovary is removed and frozen before it is damaged so that it can be used at a later date. An "artificial ovary" could reduce this risk.

Scientists say that human trials will start no earlier than 5-10 years. Such treatments increase the risk of infertility as they can stop the ovaries from working properly.

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Now their best option is to freeze their eggs before problems in the ovary start and then undergo potentially gruelling IVF. Unlike ovarian tissues, follicles do not contain cancer cells. The team developed the scaffold over three-days by using chemicals to strip the ovarian tissue of all of its cells. "This is early days for the work but it's a very interesting proof of concept".

The approach has been garnering praise from the scientific community, but more research is needed.

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).

This is an "exciting" technique, but still requires testing in humans, experts said.

While this process allows women to resume their periods and to conceive, it risks re-introducing cancerous cells. This could be the great future in which cancer patients are able to carry babies to term after being through radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

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