NASA-inspired technology may help preserve women's future fertility after cancer treatment

PITTSBURGH, April 29 Using technology borrowed from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), scientists at the University of Pittsburgh's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine have taken the first steps toward successfully preserving ovarian tissue from rats and mice in culture, including immature egg follicles, according to a study in the current issue of the journal Tissue Engineering. Such techniques may prove to be valuable in protecting the fertility of a woman with cancer whose future childbearing potential is threatened by the very chemotherapy or radiation treatments necessary to save her life.

"While it is possible for ovaries to be removed and frozen before cancer treatment, there is currently no reliable way to generate mature eggs once the stored tissue is thawed," said Alan J. Russell, Ph.D., director of the McGowan Institute and senior author of the study. "Finding a safe, dependable way to produce healthy eggs from preserved ovaries will be a significant advance toward conserving fertility for cancer patients."

In the most recent study using ovarian tissue in rats and mice, University of Pittsburgh scientists focused their efforts on ovarian tissue structures, including immature eggs and follicles, the main functional portion of the ovary. Under normal circumstances, follicles remain dormant until triggered at puberty to cycle through several stages of development before reaching full maturity. Eggs are nurtured within the follicle. Once all the follicles are gone, ovaries fail and a woman enters menopause.

"We looked at using suspension culture systems to provide a uniform setting for follicles that is similar to the natural ovarian environment," said Dr. Russell, who also is professor of surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Custom-designed rotating wall vessels and orbiting test tubes were the suspension systems used, explained Elizabeth McGee, M.D., a study co-author

Contact: Michele Baum
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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