Infertile mice have successfully given birth to pups, thanks to 3D-printed ovaries. This is a promising advance for female cancer patients whose treatment has affected their hormones and fertility.
The mice’s ovaries were replaced with bioprosthetic ones constructed from a 3D-printed scaffold, boosting their hormone production allowing them to ovulate, give birth, and even nurse their pups. The research was carried out at Northwestern University in Chicago, US.
Creating organs from scratch instead of transplanting them from another body is described as “the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine” by Teresa K. Woodruff, a reproductive scientist who was involved in the work.
The 3D-printed scaffold was made of gelatine, produced by breaking down collagen, a protein found throughout your body in muscles, bones and skin. It’s the first time gelatine has been successfully printed into a strong enough structure to allow it to be transplanted.
This strength comes from the scaffold’s specific geometry, which also helped the ovarian follicles – the hormone-producing cells which surround developing egg cells – to survive. This architecture would not have been possible without the use of 3D printing.
The ultimate aim of this research is to restore fertility and hormone production in cancer survivors, whose treatment could stop their ovaries from functioning properly, leading to infertility in adults or hormone-based developmental issues in survivors of childhood cancer.
With research into other 3D-printed organs, including hearts, livers and kidneys, already well underway, it’s hoped that this technology could one day end our reliance on organ donation.