Published: Thu, May 18, 2017
Medical | By Ismael Lynch

3D printed ovary implants produce healthy offspring

3D printed ovary implants produce healthy offspring

Infertile mice have given birth to healthy pups after having their fertility restored with ovary implants made with a 3D printer.

Mice whose ovaries were removed and replaced with an artificial structure were able to have offspring naturally, scientists have revealed in a breakthrough that could lead to the "holy grail of bioengineering" in humans.

Three-dimensional printing has been used to create mouse ovaries made of gelatin, able to ovulate and produce eggs that can be fertilised and carried to full term.

It sounds simple enough, but the survival of the organs depended wholly on the specific patterning of the pores in the 3D-printed scaffolding.

The bioprosthetic ovaries, or "scaffolds" as researchers call them, were composed of gelatin, a biological hydrogel made from collagen - which is one of the main proteins within human tissue.

The full research paper, entitled "A bioprosthetic ovary created using 3D printed microporous scaffolds restores ovarian function in sterilized mice", can be found here. The treatment could be particularly helpful for women who've had childhood cancer or have undergone cancer treatment, since these patients often display hormone insufficiencies, difficulties becoming pregnant, and have limited fertility options.

Laronda said, "The goal of this scaffold is to recapitulate how an ovary would function".

"We hope for pediatric patients that means they can go through puberty or for adults to have hormonal cycles that are necessary for overall health", added Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University.

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Martin Ledwick, head information cancer nurse for Cancer Research UK says: "Fertility preservation is an important issue for many patients whose treatment is likely to leave them infertile..." Such engineered ovaries could one day be used to help restore fertility in cancer survivors rendered sterile by radiation or chemotherapy.

The team used gelatin as the "ink" to print the scaffold. We tested different architectural designs using precise 3D printing techniques to best extrude gelatin and give us a scaffold that would meet these criteria.

Northwestern's Feinberg school of medicine and McCormick school of engineering came together for the project using 3D-printing technology and follicles from prior ovarian tissue to form a scaffold that was then placed inside the mouse.

"This research shows these bioprosthetic ovaries have long-term, durable function", said Woodruff.

"The revolution of being able to 3-D print internal organs is going to be move very quickly", Woodruff said. "We're thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl's life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause". So by removing the follicles and not transplanting the rest the ovary, and instead using a bioprosthetic ovary, "we're hoping to minimize the likelihood of transferring disease". Blood vessels formed that allowed hormones to circulate within the mouse bloodstream to take care of all the other parts of pregnancy, like lactating after birth.

The findings were published May 16 in Nature Communications.

Woodruff and her team were able to make a structure that was rigid enough to stand up to surgery, but also porous enough to work with the mouse's body tissues. It also ensures there's enough space for eggs (which are some of the largest single human cells at 0.12 millimeters) to mature in.

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