An all too common complication of anticancer treatments in young women and girls is sterility, due to a decline in function of the ovary (premature ovarian insufficiency). Since the ovary also makes hormones that affect the development of other organs, early decline in ovarian function weakens bones and muscles and leads to cardiovascular problems and impaired cognitive development. Work in our lab uses tissue engineering principles to protect, regenerate and restore ovarian tissues to preserve future fertility. To achieve this, we use biomimetic hydrogels (shown in the image) to generate an artificial protective environment with controlled physical and biological properties that promote survival and development of ovarian follicles. Such artificial systems can be implanted and will mimic the normal environment, protect from immune rejection and restore both fertility and ovarian hormonal secretion. Additionally, these systems can be used in culture to study how eggs develop from stem cells and identify the factors that promote development of healthy eggs.
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