Justin Saul creates an artificial ovary

Menopause leads to decreased bone density, which puts women at risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures

Menopause leads to decreased bone density, which
puts women at risk of osteoporosis or bone

“The idea was that the body is pretty good at what it does,” Justin Saul said, “so we wanted to mimic what the body does naturally.”

Saul and his team are creating an artificial ovary for women in menopause or who lose ovarian function due to other causes.

Menopause is a natural process for all women that occurs around age 50. They cease to be able to have children, and the amount of estrogen and progesterone (two hormones crucial in female development) they produce sharply decreases.

This decrease of estrogen and progesterone, however, can lead to some unwanted side-effects. Bone density decreases drastically over time, for example, and this can lead to bone fractures and osteoporosis. Other side effects of menopause include hot flashes, poor sleep, night sweats, and weight gain.

For decades, the negative symptoms of menopause were treated with hormone therapy. The symptoms lessened drastically with this treatment. However, in the early 2000s studies came out linking menopause hormone therapy to increased risk of stroke, blood clots, and breast cancer, and the usage of hormone therapy dropped off.

Saul and his co-collaborators at Wake Forest University (where Saul worked before coming to Miami in 2011) decided to develop a solution that provided the same relief but without the negative side effects.

Two cells that are important for estrogen production, theca and granulosa cells, were removed from rats and encapsulated. These ovarian constructs were implanted in rats that had their ovaries removed. These rats did not experience the same bone density loss or weight gain as the rats who did not have the ovarian constructs.

These constructs, because they are made of ovarian cells, are regulated by the same pathways that regulate native ovarian function and respond to the body’s feedback mechanisms, unlike hormone injections, which would ideally lead to less negative side effects.

By Paige Smith