WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – December 6, 2017 –
New research in rats suggests the possibility of bioengineering artificial
ovaries in the lab to provide a safer, more natural hormone replacement therapy
for women. A team from Wake
Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine found that
the engineered ovaries were more effective than hormone therapy drugs at
improving bone and uterine health and body composition.
treatment is designed to secrete hormones in a natural way based on the body’s
needs, rather than the patient taking a specific dose of drugs each day,”
C. Opara, Ph.D., senior author and professor of
regenerative medicine at the institute, which is part of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
hormone replacement medications designed to compensate for the loss of female
sex hormone production are not recommended for long-term use due to the
increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer.
in Nature Communications, the research team suggests that the cell-based system
of hormone replacement, because of its ability to match dose with the body’s
needs, is an attractive alternative to drugs and is consistent with current
guidelines in the U.S. and Europe recommending the lowest possible doses of hormone
hormone replacement will likely become increasingly important as the population
of aging women grows,” said Opara. “Whether the loss of ovarian function is due
to surgical removal, chemotherapy or menopause, the effects can range from hot
flashes and vaginal dryness to infertility and increased risk of osteoporosis
and heart disease.
engineer the bioartificial ovary, the research team isolated the two types of
cells found in ovaries (theca and granulosa) from rats. These cells were
encapsulated inside a thin membrane and implanted in rats whose ovaries had
been removed. These rats were compared with animals with normal ovarian
function, untreated rats and rats who received either a low- or high-dose of
traditional hormone replacement drugs.
study looked at three areas commonly affected by the loss of ovarian function:
body composition, bone health and uterine health.
is well known that loss of ovarian function leads to body fat accumulation and
weight gain. The study found that the cell-based constructs were able to
achieve a substantially lower percentage of body fat levels than low-dose drug
therapy and had the same results as animals with intact ovaries.
deficiency can also lead to osteoporosis and related fractures. In the rat
study, the cell treatment led to better bone outcomes than the traditional
hormone replacement drugs.
loss of ovarian function is also known to have adverse effects on the genital
and urinary system, including sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence. The
researchers evaluated uterine tissue in study animals and found that uterine
health in the cell-treated animals was similar to the animals with intact
study highlights the potential utility of cell-based hormone therapy for the
treatment of conditions associated with the loss of ovarian function,” said
future step will be to determine if the treatment is effective in women and if
donor cells are a safe option. Women who need hormone therapy are unlikely to
have enough ovarian cells for transplantation. The capsule was designed to
allow oxygen and nutrients to enter the capsule, but to prevent the patient
from rejecting the cells – a scenario that would allow functional ovarian
tissue from donors to be used to engineer bioartificial ovaries for women with
co-researchers were Sivanandane Sittadjody, Ph.D, Sunyoung Joo, M.D., Ph.D.,
Thomas C. Register, Ph.D, James J. Yoo, M.D., Ph.D., and Anthony Atala, M.D.,
Wake Forest Baptist; Justin M. Saul, Ph.D., a former Wake Forest Baptist
researcher now at Miami University; and John P. McQuilling, Ph.D, a former Wake
Forest Baptist researcher now at Organogenesis.