Sandra Carson set out to create an environment where the ovarian function could be studied in a lab. Thanks to a 3-D lab petri dish by Jeffrey Morgan the simple idea has developed into a 3-D, fully-functional ovary. The innovation is published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

Researchers from the Women & Infants Hospital and Brown University wanted to create a working model of a human ovary that would mature eggs for scientific study. Having an in-house source of eggs would allow scientists to study the effects of various toxins, prescription medications and other situations on the developing and mature egg. What came out of that idea was an ovary in 3-D that can mature, immature eggs.

Scientists were able to place theca cells on a 3-D petri dish of agarose gel. The cells took the shape of a honeycomb. Granulosa cells were injected into the honeycomb shape and a make-shift ovary formed. When immature oocytes were placed inside the ovary, they reached full maturity.

Scientists used donated cells to develop the artificial ovary. The potential for cancer victims to maintain fertility after radiation and chemotherapy are huge. Cancer patients would have to donate cells and eggs before treatment. Cells would be used at a later date to create the artificial ovary and mature the egg for fertilization.

Some cancer patients would not be able to use advanced technology. Leukemia patients, for instance, cannot typically donate eggs or cells after diagnosis. Cells tend to carry the cancer trait if fertilization occurs and the egg is implanted into the uterus, cancer cells could be transferred as well causing a resurgence of leukemia.

Source: Stephan P. Krotz, Jared C. Robins, Toni-Marie Ferruccio, Richard Moore, Margaret M. Steinhoff, Jeffrey R. Morgan, and Sandra Carson. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetic. 24 August 2010.

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