Breakthrough: 3-D Printed Ovaries Could be the Key to Restoring Fertility

Posted May 18, 2017

This week, researchers announced that infertile mice were able to give birth after being implanted with artificial 3D-printed ovaries, reports Ian Sample at The Guardian.

After mating naturally, three of the seven mice implanted with the 3D printed ovaries actually gave birth to pups (at least two each).

This structure created and infused inside the female mouse allowed the ovarian follicles, which produce hormones during pregnancy, to function properly within the manufactured ovary and led to the creature eventually delivering healthy pups.

"Outside of reproductive biology, our findings will likely impact others developing tissue units ... and underscore the importance of independently investigating the impact of architectural variables when designing scaffolds for other soft tissue and organ targets".

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed an artificial ovary using a 3D printer and gelatin that may help women with fertility issues conceive.

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Scientists have used 3D-printed ovaries to successfully restore fertility for the first time in what they call "the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine".

"We're learning more about the fundamental biology of the ovary through these 3-D printed structures and this new knowledge is aiding in the next generation of options that we're working toward for young cancer patients", said co-senior author Teresa Woodruff, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

And while doctors have had some success in restoring women's fertility from frozen ovarian tissue, an implant could potentially help those who do not bank healthy tissue when they are children.

A control mouse pup (left) lays next to a green pup (right) that was created from eggs that ovulated from the bioprosthetic ovary. Gelatin, made from broken-down collagen, is rigid enough to be manipulated during surgery, but porous enough to allow it to properly interact with the mouse's biology.

3-D printed body parts may seem straight out of a science fiction movie, but a recent medical breakthrough out of Northwestern University could use 3-D printing to benefit women who have lost their fertility. We tested different architectural designs using precise 3D printing techniques to best extrude gelatin and give us a scaffold that would meet these criteria.

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"This is the first study that demonstrates that scaffold architecture makes a difference in follicle survival", Shah said. The researchers settled on a special human-safe, self-supporting gelatin to create the scaffolds. The scaffold supported both the immature eggs and the follicles, while allowing enough space for the eggs to mature and for the ovary to form blood vessels, letting hormones circulate and trigger lactation after birth.

"The revolution of being able to 3-D print internal organs is going to be move very quickly", Woodruff said. And they have successfully grown immature egg cells into mature ones in a lab. "We realized what that ovary skeleton looked like and utilized it as a model for the bioprosthetic ovary embed".

The paper was published Tuesday, May 16, in Nature Communications. "We're preparing to stun the world picture, which means each phase of the young lady's life, so adolescence through adulthood to a characteristic menopause".

"The scaffold would be useful in these cases once we have iPS-derived female oocytes and the hormone producing somatic cells (granulosa and theca) and we are able to develop a complete in vitro iPS-derived follicle", Woodruff told TechCrunch.

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