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TOP ROW: Honeycomb of theca cells. BOTTOM ROW: Tissue after 48 hours and five days  (Source: Brown University)
Artificial organ is able to nurture and mature human egg cells

The first artificial human ovary has been developed by researchers at Brown University and Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, which could lead to infertility treatments for cancer patients and advancements in fertility research. 

Stephan Krotz, the study's lead author and a Houston fertility doctor; Sandra Carson, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and a senior author of the study; and their team have already developed/used a lab-grown ovary to mature human eggs. 

"An ovary is composed of three main cell types, and this is the first time that anyone has created a 3-D tissue structure with triple cell line," said Carson. 

The artificial ovary was made by forming honeycombs of theca cells, which is one of the three key types of cells in the ovary, that were donated from patients ranging from ages 25-46. When the theca cells grew into the shape of the honeycomb, human egg cells and clumps of donated granulosa cells were placed in the holes of the honeycomb. Within days, the theca cells enclosed the granulosa and human eggs, acting like a real ovary.

The ovary is made functional by bringing all three ovarian cell types together into a 3D arrangement, which is exactly what Jeffrey Morgan, associate professor of medical science and engineering and co-author of the study, was able to do using 3D Petri dishes made out of a moldable agarose gel. These dishes are made specifically to help cells gather into certain shapes. 

After much experimentation, the researchers found that the artificial ovary was able to nurture and mature eggs from the early antral follicle stage to full maturity. 

"[This] represents the first success in using 3-D tissue engineering principles for in vitro oocyte maturation," said researchers in the journal article. 

This kind of research has the potential to preserve the fertility of women about to undergo cancer treatment by freezing immature eggs and allowing them to mature outside of the person in the artificial ovary. In addition, having an artificial ovary helps researchers understand how healthy ovaries work and investigate what kinds of problems could lead to poor egg health and maturation. 

This study was published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics.

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I don't know how I feel
By Spivonious on 9/15/2010 11:32:08 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't this kind of go against natural selection? I mean, if the woman can't have babies, her genes probably shouldn't be carried on. Books like The Handmaid's Tale and Children of Men come to mind.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By The Raven on 9/15/2010 11:39:56 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't this kind of go against natural selection?

Not if the geniuses who discovered it would keep it to themselves ;-)

RE: I don't know how I feel
By nafhan on 9/15/2010 12:23:16 PM , Rating: 4
Technically, her genes would be carried on because she has the "survival" trait of having enough money (however procured) to afford this procedure.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By zippyzoo on 9/15/2010 12:27:51 PM , Rating: 2
If you can figure out the genetic problem and "fix it" then does it matter. The question then becomes what do we mean by fix and did we fix it actually.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By geekman1024 on 9/15/2010 10:56:29 PM , Rating: 2
Definition of "fix": Bend it the way we think will make us feel good.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By drmovieman03 on 9/15/2010 1:00:46 PM , Rating: 3
potential to preserve the fertility of women about to undergo cancer treatment by freezing immature eggs and allowing them to mature outside of the person in the artificial ovary

She has the ability to have kids, she is just going to have her eggs taken out frozen and then put in the artificial ovary, because she is about to go through chemo..which will kill her ovaries.....if I read it correctly.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By rs1 on 9/15/2010 1:14:02 PM , Rating: 5
If you want to take that viewpoint, then pretty much all of modern medicine goes against natural selection. I mean, technically, if you cannot survive pneumonia/smallpox/strep/whatever else without medical intervention then your genes shouldn't be carried on. That's how populations developed immunity to infectious disease prior to modern medicine. The susceptible population dies off and you're left with only the people who are naturally immune, who then go on to rebuild a population that includes their natural immunity.

We have already used our technology to bypass a myriad of conditions which have historically been extremely effective at knocking people out of the gene pool, and in that sense this new invention is really no different than hundreds of other innovations that preceded it. Does it result in a "weaker" human gene pool from a strictly Darwinian perspective? Yes. But the idea that we should shun all such technologies is ludicrous at best. If we actually applied that philosophy consistently, the vast majority of the people here would have probably died in childhood to one malady or another that modern medicine just happens to have a cure/vaccine/treatment for.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By Spivonious on 9/16/2010 10:34:30 AM , Rating: 2
Being unable to conceive children from a genetic issue (not due to radiation/chemotherapy) is a pretty strong genetic flaw, and not anything like a slight increased resistance to a particular disease.


RE: I don't know how I feel
By JediJeb on 9/16/2010 6:11:37 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe this is why so many of today's future doctors, physicist, chemist, computer engineers, ect come from developing countries instead of the most modern countries. Maybe those countries have stronger gene pools because of their higher rates of infant mortality and early deaths due to not receiving massive doses of vaccines and antibiotics from childhood up. Could modern medicine actually be inhibiting human evolution or forcing it into a path that doesn't promote becoming a stronger species?

Also along the same lines, does increased rates of abortions in modern countries do the same thing by taking potentially exceptional genetic specimens out of the gene pool? This is seen all the time in the wild when over hunting of the prime breeding males as trophies causes the herds to become filled with weaker males leading to weaker overall herds.

Just some things to think about.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By Pneumothorax on 9/15/2010 1:25:26 PM , Rating: 3
We already have a social construct that goes against natural selection=welfare queens. If they didn't have everybody supporting their 6 kids, they wouldn't be able to reproduce as they would starve themselves, unable to feed to excess amount of children they keep popping out without the ability to feed/clothe them on their own.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By Ammohunt on 9/15/2010 2:04:00 PM , Rating: 2
What you are talking about is eugenics i.e. social Darwinism it’s been suggested and tried before by people like Adolph Hitler and Karl Marx. There is an argument though that our Evolution may eventually become wholly dependent on our technology to the extent that when the technology or the knowledge to maintain it or re-create it disappears we do as well.

RE: I don't know how I feel
By DKantUno on 9/20/2010 2:44:02 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty much everything we identify as progressive "hurts" natural selection as we know it. Agriculture was a kind of 'new' technology, and had it been 'forgotten', the significantly less fit (and more sensitive ;) ) males would have found it nearly impossible to survive by hunting and their needs (amplified by the rampant consumption typical of the golden agricultural era which an apocalypse has unfortunately brought to an end) might simply not have been met by gathering fruits alone. I mean, imagine if a Hindu farmer had all his tools taken away and had only his own sacred cow to eat....his survival now jeopardised by his belief system or - you could argue - his now compromised emotional strength.

And just for fun, think how our acceptance of homosexuality 'hurts' natural selection. :) Or when we frown upon any kind of discrimination - be it disability, race, age or looks based!

But that's just the way it is; we are a unique species because social progress is just as important as (sometimes, more than) survival. In fact, it is utterly incredible - and in my belief, attests to our strength as a species - that we are not only bending the rules of natural selection (think of the many oddly-matched couples you've seen!) but when genetic tinkering becomes common-place enough, we would be directly challenging it! The human brain was not a mere step forward in evolution; I like to think of it as a way to accelerate the process of evolution - which first began by augmenting ourselves with tools and then machines - what is an automobile but a mechanical speed augmentation to a human being? How many millions of years would it have taken for natural selection alone to have created a variation of the human species capable of running long distances at 60+mph? In fact that question (although rhetorical) sounds idiotic right away!

'Fixing' flawed genes would finally bring the process full circle - in the mean time, we can rely on all other kinds of technology to push the species forward.

jedijeb wrote:
"Maybe this is why so many of today's future doctors, physicist, chemist, computer engineers, ect come from developing countries instead of the most modern countries."

No, that is due to the social pressure of HAVING to find a job and get 'settled', and the resultant social encouragement to nerds and associated professions. :) The sports and arts scene in India is - really - pitiable. Emulating the Indian school system is the last thing Obama should be looking at - what we ALL need is a reasonable middle ground where science and technology is given just as much importance as the other right-brained (or all brawn) stuff.

I do agree though that kids in the west or rich kids in general ARE too coddled. I mean, landing up with a cold or severe rash after a little exposure to actual Indian conditions (not in an a/c room) is just...a little sad. That doesn't mean the actual 'slumdog' kids are doing peachy! I don't even want to look at their mortality rates. Once again, it's the middle-ground solution that would work for everyone (get vaccinations, but don't go nuts over them. Let the kids play around a little, get hurt, and build some resistance but don't neglect their health either!)

It's all just (the oft heard of but barely ever seen) common sense.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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