Researchers create prosthetic ovary using gelatin and a 3D printer

3D-printed ovaries restore fertility in mice

By removing a female mouse's ovary and replacing it with a bioprosthetic ovary, the mouse was able to not only ovulate but also give birth to healthy pups.

Scientists have successfully 3D printed ovaries that not only boost hormone production and actually ovulate, but also produce healthy offspring.

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 scientists created the bioprosthetic ovaries with mouse eggs that glow green so it was clear to see if mouse pups were born from the bioprosthetic ovary. 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.

Researchers from the Institute collaborated with scientists from the McCormick School of Engineering to produce a 3D-printed structure that was embedded with ovary follicles.




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 exciting part of this new discovery is that we are going to be able to build ovaries that we hope one day will help restore fertility to young cancer survivors as well as children going through puberty who have been treated with life-preserving cancer treatments but are going to be sterilised by that same treatment".

"They have managed to create a matrix in which they can embed ovarian tissue and they've then managed to implant that back in a mouse and made it work", she said. "Yet, we found a gelatin temperature that enables it to act naturally supporting, not crumple, and prompt building numerous layers". This may reduces the egg production that leaves them infertile.

This study is just one example of the possibilities afforded by 3-D printing, according to Woodruff. 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. Using a 3D-printer and gelatin, they then printed the basic structure of the ovary, and dosed it with the cultured ovarian follicles.

Ramille Shah, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick School of Engineering, said the material - a biological hydrogel - used in the scaffold sets this 3-D structure apart from other research. Similarly, the 3-D printed "scaffold" or "skeleton" is implanted into a female and its pores can be used to optimize how follicles, or immature eggs, get wedged within the scaffold. Researchers punched out 2-millimeter circles through the scaffolds, implanted 40-50 follicles into each one, and created a "bioprosthetic" ovary. Image via Nature Communications. 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. 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. We transplanted this bioprosthetic ovary into mice, in the same location where their natural ovaries were.

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