The development of the world’s first artificial ovary could mean improved chances of fertility for women that have had cancer.
It is widely known that cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, can damage a woman’s eggs, affecting her fertility and making it difficult for her to get pregnant in the future.
There are a number of ways women are currently able to try and combat this, although none of them have guaranteed success. Cancer Research describes IVF as the most effective way of preserving fertility, which involves fertilising a woman’s egg with sperm outside of the womb, storing and freezing it until she’s ready to become pregnant, and then replanting the egg in the womb.
Similarly, egg freezing involves removing eggs from a woman’s womb, freezing them and later thawing them to become fertilised with an injection of sperm. This procedure isn’t recommended generally because of its low success rate.
Another option is ovarian tissue freezing, which involves a small operation to remove some ovarian tissue, which is then frozen. The tissue is put back once your cancer treatment has finished.
However, all of the above demand that doctors freeze the eggs or reproductive tissue once it has left the body – which can dramatically lower the success rate because of the continued change of temperature.
Now, thanks to the work done by a leading fertility centre in specialist hospital Rigshospitalet, in Copenhagen, Denmark, there is another option.
Scientists have developed a revolutionary new way to preserve a woman’s eggs without freezing them, by creating an artificial ovary for the eggs to be housed in and grown to a stage of fertilisation.
They will then, at this point, be implanted back into the woman’s ovary.
Researchers have described their creation as the world’s first working “bio-engineered” human ovary, and The Independent reports that Dr Susanne Pors, who led the Rigshospitalet team, says: “This is the first time that isolated human follicles have survived in a decellularised human scaffold and, as a proof-of-concept, it could offer a new strategy in fertility preservation without risk of malignant cell re-occurrence.”
Professor Adam Balen, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery at Seacroft Hospital, Leeds adds: “This is an extremely important advance in the field of fertility preservation.
“The ability to successfully create a ‘new ovary’, by removing any tissue that might potentially reintroduce the cancer and fashioning a scaffold on which to grow the egg-containing follicles, allows the reimplantation of a ‘safe’ ovary, with the potential to successfully restore fertility.”
While this is undeniably exciting news, the prospect of trying this procedure on humans is years away: it is currently at the animal testing stage. However, there is no denying that the developments look incredibly hopeful for the future.