Trials on mice showed that females implanted with the ovary could ovulate normally, even give birth to healthy pups and successfully nurse them, the team reports. They later gave birth to healthy babies. "It's important for cancer patients and their future, and it's important for the entire field of soft tissue transplants".
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".
"The goal of this scaffold is to recapitulate how an ovary would function", Laronda explained. "We're basically using the building blocks of our internal organs, gelatin that comes from collagen and we're able to put that into the 3-D printer and basically instruct it to create the architecture of an ovary", said Teresa Woodruff, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. They then let them sit for four days so the follicles could establish a connection to each other before surgically implanting them in mice with their ovaries removed.
The ovary walls were engineered to have a lattice-like porous structure, so they could interact with body tissues and trigger the production of eggs, while also being strong enough to cope with implantation. At a certain temperature, the team found that they could print complex, multi-layered structures with it, and eventually this led them to constructing a synthetic ovary.
The work marks a step towards making artificial ovaries for young women whose reproductive systems have been damaged by cancer treatments, leaving them infertile or with hormone imbalances that require them to take regular hormone-boosting drugs. Now, scientists hope 3-D printing will help restore fertility. We chose gelatin as a material because it is relatively cheap and already has several FDA-approved uses, which can facilitate the translation of our 3D printable gelatin devices for clinical use.
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Although it required decades of research to be able to 3D-print these ovary scaffolds in the first place, the team uncovered plenty of new information along the way.
One researcher, Ramille Shah, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick School of Engineering, told the press that she hoped a bioprinted ovary prosthetic for humans would be implanted within the next five years. It also acts as "scaffolding" to create the artificial ovaries.
"3-D printing is done by depositing filaments", says Rutz in a statement. "We realized what that ovary skeleton looked like and utilized it as a model for the bioprosthetic ovary embed". 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. They then inserted mouse follicles-balls of hormone-secreting cells encasing primordial ova-into the scaffolds and found after about a week that the scaffolds with smaller pores better supported follicles. "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".
Existing treatments for ovarian dysfunction, like in vitro fertilization and ovarian transplants, don't provide patients with long-term solutions, Woodruff and colleagues write in Nature Communications.