In a first, mice implanted with 3D printed bioprosthetic ovaries have given birth to healthy offsprings, an advance that could provide new hope to women who are unable to have children, scientists said. The new 3D printed ovary implants actually ovulate, according to researchers from the Northwestern University in the US. 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. The moms were even able to nurse their young. The bioprosthetic ovaries are constructed of 3D printed scaffolds that house immature eggs. The scientists' objective was to help restore fertility and hormone production in women who have undergone adult cancer treatments or those who survived childhood cancer and now have increased risks of infertility and hormone-based developmental issues. "This research shows these bioprosthetic ovaries have long-term, durable function," said Teresa K Woodruff, from Northwestern's Women's Health Research Institute in the US. "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 Woodruff. The material or "ink" used for the research is gelatin, which is a biological hydrogel made from broken-down collagen that is safe to use in humans. The scaffold 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 said. "Most hydrogels are very weak, since they're made up of mostly water, and will often collapse on themselves," said Ramille Shah, assistant professor at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering. "But we found a gelatin temperature that allows it to be self-supporting, not collapse, and lead to building multiple layers.
No one else has been able to print gelatin with such well-defined and self-supported geometry," said Shah. "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, a former post-doctoral fellow in the Woodruff lab. "The purpose of this scaffold is to recapitulate how an ovary would function. We're thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl's life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause," Laronda said. Additionally, the successful creation of 3-D printed implants to replace complex soft tissue could significantly impact future work in soft tissue regenerative medicine.
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