Hopes 'artificial ovaries' could help cancer patients

It was this bioengineered scaffold on which the isolated early-stage follicles then attached to.

Women who face a cancer diagnosis can already have ovarian tissue removed and frozen before they have fertility-harming treatments.

The decellularised scaffold was made up of a mix of the proteins and collagens left behind.

"This is an extremely important advance in the field of fertility preservation", said Adam Balen, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery at Seacroft Hospital, Leeds, Independent reported. Pors and her team will reveal more on the research Monday at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona, Spain.

Because our current anti-cancer standbys - chemotherapy and radiotherapy - often damage the stash of follicles present in each woman's ovaries since birth, those who want to conceive after treatment have two options: have a handful of these cell clusters harvested beforehand then turn to IVF when they reach remission, or have the entire ovary harvested then re-implanted.

The patients who might benefit from an artificial ovary, if one is created, are select women who have a type of cancer that causes malignant cells in their ovarian tissue, such as ovarian cancer and some blood-born cancers including leukemia. Next, early stage follicles are thawed and reintroduced into the scaffold in the lab.

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The study is still a proof-of-concept which could potentially pave the way for new methods to preserve fertility to be developed without the risk of cancer reoccurrence.

"The beauty of this is that numerous women who are having ovarian grafts can go and get pregnant naturally, and don't need to go through IVF".

He added that the new technique transplants only the eggs and surrounding cells of the follicle (seeded into a matrix) back into the uterus.

For young female cancer patients wanting to preserve their fertility, ovarian tissue transfer that can restore menstrual cycles and allow the woman to get pregnant "the old-fashioned way" - since hundreds of eggs remain intact within the follicles - would be a huge advantage over freezing a few eggs. The synthetic organ will be made from a woman's own tissue before being transplanted into her body to tackle infertility.

Susanne Pors at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen said in a statement, "This is the first proof that we can actually support these egg cells". Renewed hormonal function occurred in 95% of these women, and more than 100 children have been conceived after the tissue transfers.

Scientists say that human trials will start no earlier than 5-10 years.

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