Both radiotherapy and chemotherapy often destroy ovary function
The new research could lead to a new option for patients hoping to preserve fertility
An artificial ovary – the female sex organ that produces eggs – may soon be achievable, say Danish researchers who have engineered a “scaffold” on which early-stage cells can develop into functional ovarian follicles, the small fluid-filled sacs that contain a woman’s eggs.
This represents further progress in preserving a woman’s fertility from the impact of cancer treatments, experts say.
Dr. Susanne Pors, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Reproductive Biology at the University Hospital of Copenhagen Rigshospitalet, will present the research Monday at the 34th Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona, Spain.
“The artificial ovary will consist of a scaffold (originating from the woman’s own tissue or from donated tissue) combined with her own follicles,” Pors wrote in an email. “It is newly constructed, but biological.”
A new option for fertility?
When a woman is diagnosed with cancer, she might want to consider how best to preserve her fertility, as both radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which are commonly used as cancer treatments, often destroy the function of her ovaries.
Two methods of fertility preservation are available. One option is to remove and freeze some of her eggs so that after her cancer has been treated and she’s ready for a child, she can attempt in-vitro fertilization. The second technique, commonly referred to as ovarian tissue transfer, involves removing ovarian tissue before treatment, freezing it and reimplanting it after treatment.
This second option is used less often than the first due to concerns that the ovarian tissue that is removed before treatment might contain malignant cells and, when it’s implanted, cancer could be reintroduced into a woman’s body.
This is why the American Society of Reproductive Medicine considers the procedure “experimental” – not fully safe. In the society’s published opinion, the risk of reintroducing malignancy is “currently unknown for most types of cancer,” although ovarian, leukemia and other blood-borne cancers are known to carry the greatest risk.
The new research is an attempt to remove the possibility of reintroducing cancer in the original tissue.