Page URL:

Research towards a developing a synthetic ovary

12 September 2016
Appeared in BioNews 868

Researchers in Belgium have taken the first steps towards producing a transplantable artificial ovary after demonstrating successful follicle survival in mice.

The new technique could in the future offer cancer patients who have had their fertility affected by chemotherapy, and who have not stored their eggs, an alternative to ovarian tissue freezing, which presents a risk of reintroducing cancerous cells when the tissue is reimplanted.  

To develop the synthetic ovary, researchers at the Catholic University of Louvain isolated egg-producing follicles from frozen human ovarian tissue and encapsulated them in a protective casing made out of fibrin – a tough scaffolding protein that is normally found in blood clots.  

The synthetic ovaries were then transplanted into the abdominal cavities of mice. After a week, the researchers found that about 20 percent of the follicles were still alive and appeared to be growing healthily. This survival rate is similar to that seen after transplantation of frozen ovarian tissue (a technique that has resulted in more than 60 live births), suggesting that the artificial ovary technique could hold promise.

Lead author of the study, Dr Christiani Amorim, told New Scientist that their results 'look very encouraging'. However, it is not yet known if the follicles in artificial ovaries are capable of being fertilised and leading to live births.

So far the study has only taken place in mice, and the technique will need to be developed further before it could be applied to humans. The researchers will need to test whether the artificial ovaries can survive for longer periods of time after transplantation. More work is also needed to find the optimal chemical composition and rigidity for the protective fibrin case.

'The progress of this work is fascinating, but it is still an open question whether it will be successful,' said Professor Michael von Wolff of the Women's University Hospital in Bern, Switzerland, who was not involved in the study. 'We don't know if an artificial ovary would be as effective as ovary freezing,' he added.

As well as helping female cancer patients, the technique could also benefit women with endometriosis or who have undergone premature menopause. 

Professor Claus Andersen, a reproductive physiologist at the University Hospital of Copenhagen, Denmark, told New Scientist: 'When fully developed this technology may be used in women who want to delay having babies for social reasons, or who want to postpone the menopause.'

The results were published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online.

Artificial ovary may boost fertility and postpone the menopause
New Scientist |  7 September 2016
Survival and growth of human preantral follicles after cryopreservation of ovarian tissue, follicle isolation and short-term xenografting
Reproductive Biomedicine Online |  8 September 2016
12 August 2019 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
Women could delay the menopause for up to 20 years according to a UK clinic offering the procedure commercially...
14 January 2019 - by Eleanor Mackle 
A protein has been identified as the reason why endometriosis causes infertility, according to a new study...
22 May 2017 - by Anna Leida 
Fully functional 3D-printed ovaries have been successfully implanted in mice for the first time - enabling them to have offspring...
3 April 2017 - by Caroline Casey 
Researchers in the US have replicated the female reproductive tract using a 3D model that mimics the natural menstrual cycle...
6 March 2017 - by Anna Leida 
Stem cells from an adult mouse have been used to grow a structure resembling a mouse embryo in vitro for the first time...
21 September 2015 - by Lubna Ahmed 
French researchers have described a technique to produce human sperm cells in the laboratory as they attempt to patent the method...
29 June 2015 - by Dr James Heather 
The NHS has announced that it plans to begin testing laboratory-produced blood in healthy volunteers by 2017...
18 May 2015 - by Lubna Ahmed 
A French company claims to have grown human sperm cells in a laboratory for the first time....
26 August 2014 - by Dr James Heather 
Researchers from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, UK, have for the first time produced complete working organs from genetically 'reprogrammed' cells. Engineered cells were inserted into adult mice, where they grew into what appeared to be functional thymuses....
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.