Building Functional Ovarian Tissue

A modest step forward on the path towards tissue engineered ovaries:

A proof-of-concept study suggests the possibility of engineering artificial ovaries in the lab to provide a more natural option for hormone replacement therapy for women. [Researchers] report that in the laboratory setting, engineered ovaries showed sustained release of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.

The project to engineer a bioartificial ovary involves encapsulating ovarian cells inside a thin membrane that allows oxygen and nutrients to enter the capsule, but would prevent the patient from rejecting the cells. With this scenario, functional ovarian tissue from donors could be used to engineer bioartificial ovaries for women with non-functioning ovaries.

[Researchers] isolated the two types of endocrine cells found in ovaries (theca and granulosa) from 21-day-old rats. The cells were encapsulated inside materials that are compatible with the body. The scientists evaluated three different ways of arranging the cells inside the capsules. The function of the capsules was then evaluated in the lab by exposing them to follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, two hormones that stimulate ovaries to produce sex hormones. The arrangement of cells that most closely mimicked the natural ovary (layers of cells in a 3-D shape) secreted levels of estrogen that were 10 times higher than other cell arrangements.

The capsules also secreted progesterone as well as inhibin and activin, two hormones that interact with the pituitary and hypothalamus and are important to the body's natural system to regulate the production of female sex hormones. "Cells in the multilayer capsules were observed to function in similar fashion to the native ovaries. The secretion of inhibin and activin secretion suggests that these structures could potentially function as an artificial ovary by synchronizing with the body's innate control system."



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