In another step forward in the world of 3-D printed tissues, USA scientists report they've created a "bioprosthetic" ovary in a mouse using the technology - and the mouse has given birth to healthy pups.
A team of researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and the McCormick School of Engineering has successfully implanted 3D bioprinted prosthetic ovaries into a number of infertile mice.
The bioprosthetic ovaries are constructed of 3D printed scaffolds that house immature eggs.
The researchers said the new technique could one day be used to restore fertility to women rendered infertile by cancer treatment.
"The goal of the project is to be able to restore fertility and endocrine health to young cancer patients who have been sterilized by their cancer treatment", Woodruff tells Sample.
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Dr. Anthony Atala, the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, said the nice thing about the new study is that the researchers proved their 3-D printed bioprosthesis could include follicles and so preserve the functionality.
Creating organs from scratch instead of transplanting them from another body is described as "the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine" by Teresa K. Woodruff, a reproductive scientist who was involved in the work.
And while doctors have had some success in restoring women's fertility from frozen ovarian tissue, an implant could potentially help those who do not bank healthy tissue when they are children. 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. Younger girls may be able to use the technology go through normal puberty and be fertile, while older women may gain the benefits of hormone production that protects their heart and bones.
This study is just one example of the possibilities afforded by 3-D printing, according to Woodruff. Earlier this year, her lab use tissue cultures to create a miniature 3D model of the female reproductive tract, a "period in a dish".
What separates this exploration from different labs is the engineering of the framework and the material, or "ink", the researchers are utilizing, said Ramille Shah.
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In some cancer patients, the ovaries do not function at a high enough level and hormone replacement therapy is required. Image via Nature Communications. It was important for the researchers to use a scaffold that had both the ability to provide self-support and could also promote biological growth which gelatin provided.
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. They then inserted mouse follicles-balls of hormone-secreting cells encasing primordial ova-into the scaffolds and found after about a week that the scaffolds with smaller pores better supported follicles.
"Right now we are using this fundamental discovery to being to scale that bio prosthetic ovary for larger animals", Woodruff said.
"3-D printing is done by depositing filaments", says Rutz in a statement. The ovaries behaved like the natural ones, picking out an egg cell to mature and pass along, allowing the mice to bear healthy offspring.
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