Medicine

Mice Gave Birth With 3D-Printed Ovaries—And Rocked The World Of Infertility Treatment

A 3D printer could one day be the key to helping women who have survived cancer become pregnant. Researchers at Northwestern University have successfully 3D printed ovaries that, once implanted, release eggs like regular ovaries would. It's the latest exciting medical application for 3D printing, and it comes from an all-female research collaboration.

Overcoming Cancer Fertility Struggles

In Nature Communications, the researchers report the ovaries they constructed housed eggs, boosted hormone production, and restored fertility in female mice. The mice carried their offspring, gave birth, and even successfully nursed their young. It's a good sign for women who struggle to become pregnant after undergoing cancer treatments. According to the American Cancer Society, the majority of chemotherapy drugs have been shown to cause egg damage and infertility.

"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," said Monica Laronda, co-lead author of the study who is now with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, in a news release.

Now another option could make a huge difference.

"Using bioengineering, instead of transplanting from a cadaver, to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person, is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine," said Teresa K. Woodruff, a reproductive scientist and director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, in the media release.

What Kind of 'Ink' Does This Printer Use?

There are many different applications for 3D printing, not all of them medical. The key to printing an ovary, it turns out, is using very specific materials. Some 3D-printed medical tools are designed to dissolve in the body, but the ovaries must be tough enough to stick it out.

Researchers decided the "ink" they'd put in their printer would be gelatin. According to the media release, "The scientists knew that whatever scaffold they created needed to be made of organic materials that were rigid enough to be handled during surgery and porous enough to naturally interact with the mouse's body tissues." Researchers say the structure—and precise layers of gelatin—is key to making sure the printed ovary is a viable home for eggs.

While promising, because the 3D ovaries were tested in mouse models, it will be some time before women seeking to restore their own fertility can consider a 3D printed ovary.

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Written by Curiosity Staff May 30, 2017