FRIDAY, March 29, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- It might be possible to create artificial ovaries in the laboratory to provide a more natural form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women, researchers report.
As well as producing eggs, ovaries secrete hormones that are important for bone and heart health. Production of these hormones stops due to menopause, as well as surgical removal of the ovaries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments for certain types of cancer.
There are hormone replacement medications, but long-term use of the drugs is generally avoided due to the increased risk of heart disease and breast cancer, according to the authors of a new study published in the March issue of the journal Biomaterials.
In this study, a team from the Institute of Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center reported that ovaries created in the lab showed sustained release of the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
"Our goal is to develop a tissue- or cell-based hormone therapy -- essentially an artificial ovary -- to deliver sex hormones in a more natural manner than drugs," study senior author Emmanuel Opara, a professor of regenerative medicine, said in a Wake Forest news release.
"A bioartificial ovary has the potential 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," Opara explained.
The next research step -- evaluating the function of the ovarian structures in animals -- is already under way, Opara noted.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Tamer Yalcinkaya, an associate professor and section head of reproductive medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said: "This research project is interesting because it offers hope to replace natural ovarian hormones in women with premature ovarian failure or in women going through menopause."
An artificial ovary "would bring certain advantages: It would eliminate pharmacokinetic variations of hormones when administered as drugs and would also allow body's feedback mechanisms to control the release of ovarian hormones," Yalcinkaya explained in the news release.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about hormone replacement therapy.