The study that led to the birth of healthy pups by ovarian bioprosthesis is a step closer towards restoring fertility of young women whose reproductive systems have fallen weak by cancer treatments.
Researchers with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering in Evanston, both in IL, have used a 3-D bioprinter to create bioprosthetic ovaries to treat infertility in mice.
"Our real advance here was to use gelatin, a biomaterial that makes up most of our soft tissue, and make an ovary proxy", said Woodruff.
Gelatin is a hydrogel made from collagen, which is found in human's bones and skin and is safe to use inside the body. They published their findings Tuesday in Nature Communications. All together they add up to an organic scaffold the shape of a mouse ovary.
After the follicles matured, the mice began ovulating. According to her, this would not have been possible without a 3D printer.
While the study centers on mice, it is targeted to women who survived childhood cancer and may not have otherwise had the chance to have children due to the cancer treatment's damage to their ovaries.
In Northwestern's lab, the researchers call these 3-D printed structures "scaffolds", and liken them to the scaffolding that temporarily surrounds a building while it undergoes repairs.
3D-printed ovaries allow infertile mice to give birth
Martin Ledwick, the head cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "Fertility preservation is an important issue for many patients whose treatment is likely to leave them infertile".
She said the prosthetic ovaries had been showed to have a "long-term, durable function". The team found a gelatin temperature that allowed it to support itself, leading to the ability to create multiple layers.
"We're the first to develop software for transplants that have been 3-D printed", she said. This isn't the first time we've seen 3D-printing technology used for biological applications - there are those 3D-printed eye cells, for example.
"Without a 3-D platform", said Shah, "we wouldn't have been able to demonstrate that scaffold architecture makes a difference in follicle survival". Ovarian follicles are fluid-filled sacs that contain immature eggs, which Woodruff told Reuters is a fundamental element of the ovary.
"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", says Monica Laronda, co-lead author of this research, in the statement. 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.
"Every organ has a skeleton", Northwestern reproductive scientist Teresa K. Woodruff said.
3D printing technology has brought to us many wonders. However, human ovaries are larger than mice's, so experts have raised their concern on the materials used to recreate a mouse ovary, and whether they would work the same on humans. 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.
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