Ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs that can be fertilized for pregnancy as well as secrete hormones important to bone and cardiovascular health. Several conditions can lead to loss of ovarian tissue and its functions, including premature ovarian failure. In addition, certain types of cancer that require the use of chemotherapy and radiation can injure the ovaries. These conditions can prevent women from having children and can disrupt the proper hormonal balance.
Development of a cell-based hormone therapy will provide a more natural option for hormone replacement therapy for women.
Research Approach and Goals
The project involves using donor ovarian cells that are "encapsulated” with a thin membrane that allows oxygen and nutrients to enter the capsule, but prevent issues that would cause the patient to reject the cells. Scientists will next test the encapsulated cells in preclinical studies to evaluate effectiveness.
Research Highlights and Innovation
Although medications, known as hormone replacement therapy, can compensate for the loss of ovarian hormone production, it can result in higher-than-normal hormone levels and complications. Institute scientists are working on a cell-based hormone therapy – essentially an artificial ovary to deliver sex hormones in a more natural manner than drugs. In laboratory studies, the encapsulated cells secreted sex hormones, demonstrating for the first time that the hormone-producing units of ovaries can be engineered outside the body.