There’s hope for women unable to conceive following chemotherapy as for the first time ever, scientists have successfully stripped ovarian tissue from its cancerous cells and used the remaining scaffold to support the growth and survival of human follicles (the tiny sacs that hold early-stage eggs).

This “artificial ovary” may be used one day to help women who have been left infertile following their battle with cancer.

Work presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESGRE) annual meeting in Barcelona yesterday, showcased how researchers from the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark, were able to isolate viable, early stage follicles in ovarian tissue.

“This is the first time that isolated human follicles have survived in a decellularised human scaffold,” said Dr Susanne Pors at the Rigshospitalet Laboratory of Reproductive Biology.

Susanne Pors and others at the Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen believe artificial ovaries could be a safer option than what’s currently happening. For now, the option is to reimplant frozen eggs that were removed before chemotherapy treatment. On the most part, this procedure is safe however certain cancers can invade ovarian tissue. This means there’s a chance of reintroducing cancerous cells into the body following treatment – a huge risk for obvious reasons.

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Nick Macklon, medical director at London Women’s Clinic, said that while there was a low risk of contracting cancer from frozen ovarian tissue, it is a danger that doctors take seriously. “There have been certain cancers where we can’t use this procedure because of this concern,” he said. “It’s an exciting development. This is early days for the work but it’s a very interesting proof of concept.”

Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, added: “It’ll be very reassuring, if this work reaches fruition, that patients can have the transplantation knowing there is no risk of transplanting the cancer back into them. The beauty of this is that many of the women who have ovarian grafts go and get pregnant naturally, they don’t have to go through IVF.”

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