First Lab-Grown Ovary

Researchers from Rhode Island's Brown University have developed the first artificial ovary. This could turn out to be an important tool for infertile women and cancer sufferers.

The research team, in conjunction with Women & Infants Hospital, has already made use of the organ, which was grown in a laboratory, for the purpose of maturing human eggs. So says a news release, issued by the school.

A First!

In the news release, Sandra Carson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School and the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital explained that an ovary is constructed using three cell types. This is the very first time that someone has managed to create a tissue structure that is both 3-D and is made up of a triple cell line.

Preservation Tool

Researchers believe the artificial ovary will provide helpful information about how a healthy ovary works but can also be used as a tool in helping to preserve the fertility of female cancer patients.

Senior managing health editor for, Dr. Manny Alvarez, says he believes this could turn out to be a very big thing for women who need to have their eggs harvested, either because they are facing cancer treatments which could affect their fertility or because they need to put off having babies until a later date. Up until this point, the only technology for this purpose was egg freezing. Alvarez is also the chairman of New Jersey's Hackensack University Medical Center's department of maternal fetal medicine.

Dr. Manny, as he is affectionately known by Fox News fans says that while the technology for freezing eggs works, reproduction doesn't always follow. Frozen eggs carry a much higher failure rate than do the freshly harvested eggs. The new technology gives doctors a way to create a "living environment" in which the eggs can grow to maturity, and this may improve the fertility rate for many a woman.

Researchers extracted theca and granulose cells from women of childbearing age. As the theca cells grew into their distinctive honeycomb shape, the granulose cells were injected into the honeycomb in combination with oocytes (human egg cells). A few days later, the theca cells had formed an envelope around these cells, much as a real ovary would have done. The researchers say this is the first success in engaging 3-D tissue engineering principles for the purpose of maturing eggs in a laboratory environment.

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