'Artificial ovary could replace missing sex hormones'

Sex hormonesEngineered ovaries showed sustained release of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. (Thinkstock)

A bio-artificial ovary could make hormone replacement therapy (HRT) a thing of the past for women with damaged ovaries, a new study has found.

Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's Institute for Regenerative Medicine demonstrated that in the laboratory setting, engineered ovaries showed sustained release of the sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

"Our goal is to develop a tissue - or cell-based hormone therapy - essentially an artificial ovary to deliver sex hormones in a more natural manner than drugs," said Emmanuel C Opara, professor of regenerative medicine and senior author.

"A bio-artificial ovary has the potential to secrete hormones in a natural way based on the body's needs, rather than the patient taking a specific dose of drugs each day," Opara said in a statement.

The loss of ovarian function can be due to surgical removal, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for certain types of cancer, and menopause.

The effects of hormone loss can range from hot flashes and vaginal dryness to infertility and increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.

"This research project is interesting because it offers hope to replace natural ovarian hormones in women with premature ovarian failure or in women going through menopause," Tamer Yalcinkaya, associate professor and section head of reproductive medicine at Wake Forest Baptist.

"The graft format would bring certain advantages: it would eliminate pharmacokinetic variations of hormones when administered as drugs and would also allow body's feedback mechanisms to control the release of ovarian hormones," said Yalcinkaya.

The project to engineer a bio-artificial 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 bio-artificial 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.

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