Researchers refer to this as a 'bioprosthetic ovary, ' and the mice containing them were eventually allowed to mate with male mice. 3-D printed scaffolds are implanted into the woman and its pores optimize how the immature eggs are positioned within the scaffold.
The team is hoping to scale up their artificial ovary "pattern", and 3D-print larger versions for infertile pigs.
Plenty of women have problems conceiving after they've suffered from an ailment or disease - particularly cancer - or after they've undergone medical treatment that has in some way damaged their ovaries.
The gelatin they used to create the implants is safe for use in humans and rigid enough for surgery. Even more promising, the mice were able to become pregnant and give birth to pups.
The scaffold for the 3-D printed mouse ovary. The team found a gelatin temperature that allowed it to support itself, leading to the ability to create multiple layers. These ovaries have increased hormone production and restored fertility.
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 ovaries behaved like the natural ones, picking out an egg cell to mature and pass along, allowing the mice to bear healthy offspring.
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.
This study is just one example of the possibilities afforded by 3-D printing, according to Woodruff.
"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", explained co-researcher Monica Laronda. But what makes this research different is the materials used.
Biomedical scientists from Northwestern University in Chicago are on track to develop ovary implants for humans with 3D printing technology after successfully testing 3D printed scaffolds on mice.
"Every month there is this really remarkable event", said Woodruff. But human ovaries are a lot bigger and more complicated than mouse ovaries, and there has been concern that the material and method of constructing the ovaries wouldn't hold up if you tried the same thing in people.
Loranda and her colleagues initially tried to test the theory by using portions of cow ovaries, stripped down to their base components, something called a "decellularized matrix" that they seeded with mouse ovarian cells.
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