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Grand Challenges Lecture Series Welcomes Teresa Woodruff

Teresa Woodruff, Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will speak on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 4 p.m. in the ITW classroom in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center as part of the Grand Challenges in Medicine and Engineering Lecture Series.

Woodruff will give a talk titled, "Oncofertility: The Preservation of Fertility Options for Young People with Cancer."

The Dean's Grand Challenges Lecture Series in Medicine and Engineering is a partnership between the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Feinberg School of Medicine. The series of six lectures brings together engineering and medical faculty members to catalyze interdisciplinary collaboration. The 2009-2010 inaugural season spans topics ranging from neurobiology and nanomechanics, to cell-based therapies for heart disease, to oncofertility and more.

Woodruff will speak on her research in oncofertility. Women currently have few good options to save their ability to reproduce after cancer treatment. Woodruff has been working with Lonnie Shea, professor of chemical and biological engineering, to create an ex vivo (outside of the body) environment in which a young follicle — an egg and the spherical group of specialized cells that surround it — can grow and mature to a stage at which the egg can be fertilized and implanted into the uterus. This technique could allow women to cryogenically preserve ovarian tissue containing follicles prior to cancer treatment, then use the tissue to obtain mature eggs when they are ready to start a family.

Recently Woodruff and Shea successfully grew a woman's immature follicle to a healthy and nearly mature egg in the laboratory. Woodruff achieved the new advance by suspending the human ovarian follicle in two different kinds of three-dimensional gels. Previous attempts to grow ovarian follicles had been on a flat surface, which the researchers now believe does not replicate conditions inside the body. These earlier attempts failed to develop good quality eggs that were healthy enough for fertilization.