Fertility has become a major target for regenerative medicine.
When the 3D printed ovaries were implanted into infertile mice, the mice were not only able to ovulate, they also gave birth to healthy pups.
According to Wired, Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and co-author of the study, said that they are planning on using ovarian tissues as ink.
"The long-term goal for this is cancer patients", said Woodruff.
"The real breakthrough here is we're building a real ovarian prosthesis and the goal of this project is to be able to restore fertility to young cancer patients who have been sterilised by their cancer treatment", said Dr Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist director of the Women's Health Research Institute, at Northwestern University, in IL.
Ovaries are essential to the female reproductive system. The geometric design directly affected whether or not the ovarian follicles, organized hormone-producing support cells surrounding an immature egg cell, would survive in the ovary.
"Each organ has a skeleton", said Woodruff, who likewise is the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and an individual from the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. The pups were also engineered to glow, as a way to keep track of which ones were born from mothers with the bioprosthetic organs.
For an artificial ovary to be functional it would need to facilitate ovulation. The bioprosthetic ovaries are built with 3-D printed scaffolds that hold immature eggs. The team showed that blood vessels from each mouse infiltrated the scaffolds. So the researchers punched tiny circles out of the tightly woven structures and stocked the ovaries with 40 to 50 follicles. Woodruff hopes to address some of the challenges-like finding a method of printing that creates the best chances of the egg cells maturing, and a material that will create a durable organ that lasts in humans. The moms were even able to nurse their young.
Ultimately, she said, they hope lab-grown ovaries will benefit cancer patients of all ages. The result is the generation of highly precise pore geometries and sizes. This is so it can house follicles that are at different maturity stages. It could also be beneficial in future work in soft tissue regenerative medicine. Atala was not involved in the new research. The 3D printed ovary allowed an infertile mouse to mate and breed two pups. The latter gave birth to healthy mice, reports The Verge. They need to stay in place in order to reach maturity, maintain contact with other cells, and produce hormones. "It will eventually decrease the cost of the production of these technologies because you're automating the process". The researchers explain that they used the gelatin due its its collagen origins, something that is found extensively in mouse (and human) ovaries. We were just trying to get the ovaries to function and get the animals to go through cycle.
Technically, how does biological 3-D printing work?
Existing treatments for cancer-related ovary damage include hormone-replacement therapies and the implant of donor ovaries derived from cadavers.
Dr Stewart said this technique still required the existence of ovarian follicles containing eggs.