First Artificial Human Ovary

An artificial human ovary has been created by Brown University researchers. The intent is to provide the capability of maturing human eggs in the laboratory.


(Granulosa cell spheres marked with fluorescent green dye,
surrounded by artificial human ovary)

The artificial ovary marks the first time researchers have successfully created a three-dimensional environment that contains the three main types of ovarian cells: theca cells, granulosa cells, and the eggs, known as oocytes.

The researchers broke ovarian cells out of human tissue using enzymes, and poured them into a mold made of agar, a gelatinous substance usually derived from algae. The different types of cells then assembled themselves into a honeycomb shape, with the theca and granulosa cells forming the structure. The egg cells, or oocytes, were inserted inside and bathed with hormones to stimulate the theca cells to produce androgen, and the granulosa cells to make estrogen.

"We took a different tack to rely on the inherent adhesiveness of cells to drive self-assembly," says Jeffrey Morgan, codirector of the Center for Biomedical Engineering at Brown, who led this aspect of the research. "In that nonadhesive environment, the cells will stick to each other and self-assemble a three-dimensional structure, and it conforms to the shape of our mold."

A functional artificial human ovary could help scientists understand the impact of environmental toxins or fertility drugs on human fertility. It could also be used to help women whose ovaries had been damaged.

Science fiction fans of course remember the somewhat more extensive artificial womb described by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 novel Brave New World:

...From the Social Predestination Room the escalators went rumbling down into the basement, and there, in the crimson darkness, stewing warm on their cushion of peritoneum and gorged with blood-surrogate and hormones, the foetuses grew and grew or, poisoned, languished into a stunted Epsilonhood.

Also, fans of Frank Herbert recall the procreative stump from his 1972 chiller Hellstrom's Hive.

Via Technology Review.

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