SINGAPORE: Scientists are exploring lab-grown ovaries as a potential alternative to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal women.
The research by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center had looked into a potential alternative to synthetic hormones that millions of women take after reaching middle age, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications on Dec 5.
To engineer the artificial tissue, lead researcher Emmanuel Opara and his colleagues combined two cell types - granulosa and theca cells - collected from female rats that had their ovaries removed. The artificial ovaries were then grown in the lab and implanted in the female rats.
Within a week of implantation, the artificial ovaries started secreting oestrogen, progesterone and two other natural hormones not found in current hormone replacement drugs.
Prof Opara said that the artificial ovaries were found to be better than traditional hormone replacement drugs at improving bone health and preventing weight gain. Another plus was that the treatment was as good as hormone drugs at maintaining healthy tissue in the uterus.
However, clinical trials are not likely to happen soon as it is uncertain where the cells needed to build the ovaries would come from. Younger women might need to donate the tissue, said Prof Opara.
Cynthia Stuenkel, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and a spokeswoman for the Endocrine Society in the US, said the report was “fascinating”.
However, she questioned that if such a reversal was successful, would it also bring back a woman’s period and the symptoms that often come along with it.
Prof Opara said that artificial ovaries could be safer and more effective as HRT carries an increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer, hence, it is not recommended for long-term use.
Cancer treatment and other medical reasons can make women lose their ability to produce hormones and bring about menopause. Traditionally, HRT has been offered to counter the accompanying menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, sleep problems, weight gain, and bone deterioration.