PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital have invented the first artificial human ovary, an advance that provides a potentially powerful new means for conducting fertility research and could also yield infertility treatments for cancer patients. The team has already used the lab-grown organ to mature human eggs.
"An ovary is composed of three main cell types, and this is the first time that anyone has created a 3-D tissue structure with triple cell line," said Sandra Carson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Women & Infants Hospital. Carson is a senior author of a recent article in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics that describes the innovation.
Carson said that the ovary not only provides a living laboratory for investigating fundamental questions about how healthy ovaries work, but also can act as a testbed for seeing how problems, such as exposure to toxins or other chemicals, can disrupt egg maturation and health.
Clinically, the artificial ovary could play a role in preserving the fertility of women facing cancer treatment in the future, said Stephan Krotz, a Houston fertility doctor who is the paper's lead author and a former fellow in Carson's lab. Immature eggs could be salvaged and frozen before the onset of chemotherapy or radiation, he said, and then matured outside the patient in the artificial ovary.
Building an ovary
What makes the artificial ovary a functional tissue, rather than just a cell culture, is that it brings all three ovarian cell types into a 3-D arrangement similar to a real ovary in the body. The means for making such compositions of cells was invented in the lab of Jeffrey Morgan, associate professor of medical science and engineering, who is a co-author of the pap
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