Site:  Northwestern University

Principal Investigator:  Teresa Woodruff, PhD

Rationale

Life-preserving strategies in the face of a cancer diagnosis, including radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, can compromise nearly all aspects of the female reproductive axis resulting in infertility, subfertility, or premature menopause. In addition, several conditions and disease states can have a similar consequence.

Fortunately for females, the ovary has the potential for diverse fertility preservation options ranging from standard (i.e. IVF, ICSI, embryo banking) to investigational (ovarian tissue cryopreservation, ovarian transplant).

In vitro follicle growth is another emerging technology that has tremendous promise for a subset of individuals who have blood-borne malignancies, cannot tolerate supraphysiological hormone levels, can not delay treatment, or do not have a sperm donor. Tremendous success has been achieved in performing IVFG in the mouse to the degree that live births have been achieved using gametes derived from nearly all methods attempted to date. The translation of this technology to large mammalian species, however, has not been trivial due to significant differences in factors such as follicle size, development, metabolic requirements, and physical niche.

The objectives of this project are to:

  • In this project, we will develop “smart” biomaterials that will provide human follicles with the ability to self-regulate their physical environment as they grow to terminal stages of development. We anticipate that such an environment will maintain the coordinated growth of the oocyte and its companion granulosa cells, which is required for optimal endocrine function and gamete quality. 
  • We will also develop new non-invasive endocrine measures of follicle health that, through a precise algorithm, could be used in association with conventional steroid and peptide assays to predict the maturity of individual follicles. 
  • Follicles developed to the right stage of maturity will contain the highest quality gamete, and we will use innovative nanonewton force measurements to quantitatively understand the mechanisms by which a chromosomally normal egg is generated both in vivo and in vitro during meiosis.

These experiments have broad implications on human health as a chromosomally normal egg is a fundamental pre-requisite to create a healthy offspring. Our aims are based on experiments that integrate three model organisms – mouse, cow, and human – and span multiple disciplines – reproductive medicine, cell and molecular biology, bioengineering, and biophysics. This union will allow us to advance our understanding of human reproductive biology in a quantitative way, and at the same time provide key insights into the possible clinical translation of in vitro follicle culture systems to preserve fertility in young patients with cancer or other reproductive disorders.

Read about Dr. Woodruff's previous project: Preservation and Growth of Human Follicles