By Francesca Duncan
Most cancer therapies, while life-preserving, can threaten the future fertility of both males and females. Fortunately, the menu of fertility preservation options is broad, and due to ongoing research efforts through the Oncofertility Consortium and around the globe, these options are ever-expanding. Hydrogel-based in vitro follicle growth is one such investigational technology developed by Oncofertility Consortium researchers in which immature follicles are isolated directly from ovarian tissue and grown in alginate, a natural biomaterial derived from algae. This system supports follicular architecture through terminal stages of follicle development and has been shown in the mouse to produce eggs that give rise to healthy offspring. Research is now focused on optimizing this system to produce live offspring in primate species.
As interest in learning and applying such technologies to the field of fertility preservation has increased, the Oncofertility Consortium launched a new course entitled: Oncofertility 101: a training course in in vitro follicle growth using alginate hydrogels.” This is an intense one-day course in which participants experience hands-on laboratory exercises aimed at learning the fundamentals of follicle micromanipulation, encapsulation, culture, and quality analysis. This course “ensures that the transmission of technical skills needed to successfully grow healthy follicles in three dimensions are acquired quickly in order to advance the pace of reproductive research” emphasizes Teresa Woodruff, PhD, Director of the Oncofertility Consortium. In addition to the laboratory exercises, Lonnie Shea, PhD and Min Xu, MD, PhD, both pioneers of this technology, present crucial insight into the evolution of follicle culture biomaterials and the ins and outs of setting up a follicle culture laboratory, respectively. The course is led by Francesca Duncan, PhD, a Research Associate in the Woodruff Laboratory.
The first Oncofertility 101 course, held in September 2011, was very successful. Participants came from diverse scientific backgrounds, including basic science, embryology, endocrinology, and biotech. Participants found the course to be “excellent” and “a great opportunity.” One person commented: “To really understand a technology I think you need to know how it is done so while I had read considerably about the technique, until yesterday, I did not have that important insight that goes with actually doing the technology… thank you for your time and effort and especially for your patience. It's been twenty years since I actually sat at the bench and manipulated gametes!”
Oncofertility 101 is held twice a year, and the next course is right around the corner on Monday, March 12th. This course is free of charge but registration is limited to five participants. If you are interested in registering or would like more information, please click here. The second 2012 Oncofertility 101 course will take place on Wednesday, September 26th, to coincide with the 2012 Oncofertility Consortium Conference.