Researchers build artificial ovary

Researchers at Brown University and Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island have built an artificial human ovary that can grow oocytes into mature human eggs in the laboratory. That development could help preserve fertility for women facing chemotherapy or other treatments.

To create the ovary, the researchers formed honeycombs of theca cells, one of two key types in the ovary, donated by reproductive-age patients. 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 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, says Sandra Carson, senior author of a recent article in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics that describes the innovation.

One of Carson's collaborators, Jeffrey Morgan, has founded the start-up MicroTissues Inc., which will create three-dimensional molds as tools for growing tissues, the Boston Globe reports. Carson says her goal was never to invent an artificial organ, per se. When she learned of Morgan's 3-D Petri dishes, they began to collaborate on creating an organ. Morgan says this is the first fully functional tissue to be made using the method.

- get the Brown University release
- see the Boston Globe's story