To create the ovary, the researchers formed honeycombs of theca cells, one of two key types in the ovary, donated by reproductive-age (25-46) patients at the hospital. After the theca cells grew into the honeycomb shape, spherical clumps of donated granulosa cells were inserted into the holes of the honeycomb together with human egg cells, known as oocytes. In a couple days the theca cells enveloped the granulosa and eggs, mimicking a real ovary.
The big test, however, was whether the structure could function like an ovary namely to mature eggs. In experiments the structure was able to nurture eggs from the "early antral follicle" stage to full maturity.
"[This] represents the first success in using 3-D tissue engineering principles for in vitro oocyte maturation," the researchers wrote in the journal article.
Carson said her goal was never to invent an artificial organ, per se, but merely to create a research environment in which she could study how theca and granulosa cells and oocytes interact. When she learned of Morgan's 3-D Petri dishes, they began to collaborate on creating an organ. Morgan said this is the first fully functional tissue to be made using the method.
To help fund the work, Morgan and Carson applied for and won a Collaborative Research Award from the Rhode Island Science and Technology Advisory Council (STAC). STAC grants encourage research with commercial potential. Morgan has recently founded a local Rhode Island startup, MicroTissues Inc. The company will begin selling these micro-mold tools in about a month to researchers looking to engineer 3-D tissues. Other funding came from Women & Infants Hospital.
With what appears to be a fully functional artificial organ, Carson and Morgan continue to collaborate and
|Contact: David Orenstein|