Updates in 3D printing continue to truly revolutionize any number of fields, including the medical fields. Researchers successfully printed organs, bones, and prosthetics. Now, a team from Northwestern University in Chicago 3D printed ovaries.
[Image Source: Northwestern U via YouTube]
A collaborative study from the university's Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of Engineering details the team's success. The researchers removed a female mouse's ovary and replaced it with a 3D printed ovary. She wasn't just able to ovulate; she had a healthy birth. The mouse moms could even nurse their young unaffected.
"This research shows these bioprosthetic ovaries have long-term, durable function," said reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Feinberg.
"Using bioengineering, instead of transplanting from a cadaver, to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine."
For ink, the team developed a gelatin made from broken-down collagen. This collagen is even safe to use in humans. The researchers knew that whatever ink they used to build a framework had to be organic but sturdy enough to remain intact during the surgery. Ramille Shah serves as an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick. Shah noted that other hydrogels are too weak to sustain a structure. However, the gelatin allowed the 3D printer to build up in layers.
"No one else has been able to print gelatin with such well-defined and self-supported geometry," Shah said.
The Northwestern team determined the 'scaffold' structure of the mice's ovaries. They used that as a skeleton and model for the implant. The pores of the scaffold can be used to help eggs get wedged within the structure. This would boost the survival of the eggs and help stimulate hormone production. The openness of the 3D printed structure also gives egg cells a chance to mature.
Close up of the porous, 3D printed structure [Image Source: Northwestern U via YouTube]
The success in mice hints at possible success in a much larger organism -- humans. According to the study, which can be found in this month's Nature Communications, the ultimate goal is to restore fertility to women who have undergone cancer treatments. This includes women who experienced treatments as adults or as children and have increased risks of infertility. Co-lead author Monica Laronda explained the need for this particular group of women.
"What happens with some of our cancer patients is that their ovaries don’t function at a high enough level and they need to use hormone replacement therapies in order to trigger puberty," said the former post-doctoral fellow in the Woodruff lab. "The purpose of this scaffold is to recapitulate how an ovary would function. We’re thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl’s life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause."
This innovation comes not too long after researchers successfully grew lambs outside of the ewe's womb. The synthetic womb could help sustain the lives of premature babies around the world.
You can read the entire egg study from the female-led research team here.