Artificial Ovaries Could Mean Less Harmful Hormone Therapies for Women


Pharmacological hormone replacement therapy (pHRT) can cause a wide range of health issues, from bone density loss to obesity to sexual performance issues.

A new study from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine analyzed how rats responded to bioengineered ovaries, suggesting a more natural option for women in the future.

Explanted constructs showed minimal fibrous encapsulation as indicated by H&E staining. Image/Caption Credit: Nature Communications

The researchers implanted bioengineered ovaries into rats after identifying important cells that are found in the ovaries, known as granulosa and theca cells, that produce hormones in response to hormones released by the pituitary gland. The fabricated ovaries were created with distinct compartments for both cell types in order to closely mimic an actual ovary.

“The 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,” said Emmanuel C. Opara, the study’s senior author and a professor of regenerative medicine at the institute, to Newswise.

After analyzing cell-based hormone therapies (cHRTs) instead of hormone therapies with drugs, the researchers realized cHRT allows for the hormonal relationship between the brain and ovaries to restore itself in a way that pHRTs cannot accomplish. pHRTs offered today are not recommended for long-term use, as they create a host of health concerns, including an increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

Obesity, osteoporosis, sexual dysfunction and urinary conditions are also affected by pHRTs. By creating the engineered ovaries, the researchers said they hoped to simulate the effects of cHRTs.

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As the bioengineered ovary imitates the body’s actual processes, the risk for health issues could be lower than that of HRTs, the researchers suggested. To fully understand the effects of the ovaries, the rats with the implants were compared to rats that received low doses of HRTs, high doses of pHRTs and untreated rats.

The researchers then analyzed the rats for any possible adverse effects that are associated with HRTs. The rats with implants had similar body fat percentages to the untreated rats, as well as lower body fat percentages than the rats with the lowest dose of HRTs.

In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, the rats with the implants were found to have minimal to no bone density loss and had the same uterine health of the untreated rats. The researchers hope to determine whether the engineered ovaries are successful for women.

“Safe hormone replacement will likely become increasingly important as the population of aging women grows,” Opara said. “This study highlights the potential utility of cell-based hormone therapy for the treatment of conditions associated with the loss of ovarian function.