Artificial Ovary: Scientists Develop Bioengineering Method To Help Cancer Patients Conceive

Scientists have successfully created artificial ovaries from a biodegradable material and gelatine that are found to be potentially effective in mimicking the natural organ and restoring fertility in women. 

The team from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) in Germany created the artificial organs in hopes of replacing those damaged by chemotherapy in cancer patients, EurekAlert reported Thursday

The researchers used a method called electrospinning to mix the biodegradable material, called polyepsilon caprolactone, with gelatine to create a scaffold of very thin fibers that mimic the natural structure and shape of the ovarian cortex. The technique uses high electric potential between two electrodes to vaporize a polymer solution and form the fibrous structure.

“Electrospinning is extremely versatile, as we can use a wide variety of natural and synthetic polymers,” Liliana Liverani, the FAU team’s scientific project coordinator, said. 

They then tested the artificial ovaries with pigs, which showed a high number of viable follicles, indicating the material successfully imitated the natural organ.

“This is an important step towards an ideal artificial ovary that imitates the natural organ in terms of environmental conditions for the growth and maturity of follicles,” the team said. 

The result of the study was published in the journal Scientific Reports. 

To date, cancer is known to significantly affect the fertility of women. Most of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat the disease have been linked to damage on women’s eggs, leading to fertility problems, according to the American Cancer Society

Such drugs include busulfan, carboplatin, carmustine, chlorambucil, dacarbazine, ifosfamide and melphalan. Experts also said that predicting the impact of chemo on women have been difficult due to various factors to consider. 

The treatment’s effects depend on age, the types of drugs used and the drug doses.

Current methods used to preserve chances for pregnancy require the ovarian tissue being removed, frozen and re-implanted after recovering from the disease. However, recurring cancer could still damage the tissue in the future. 

The risk then led the FAU researchers to seek a new method to completely replace the affected tissue with an artificial ovary and restore patients' fertility.

But the team noted that despite the results being “very promising,” further studies are required to confirm the benefits and effects of the artificial ovaries before they could move to clinical applications.