Could 3D-printed ovaries help treat infertility?
The rise of 3D printing has facilitatedsome impressive feats in the medical world, helping to createeverything from a new upper jaw for a cancer patient to a titanium sternum and rib cage. Now, a team from Northwestern University inChicago has used the technology to produce a prosthetic ovary, whichwas successfully implanted into mice, allowing them to bear liveyoung.
To create the pioneering prosthesis,the researchers used a 3D printer to create a scaffold from theanimal protein collagen. The team had to ensure that the structurewas strong enough to be handled during surgery, as well as spaciousenough to house the hormone-producing cells and immature eggs –known as oocytes. After some trial and error, a crisscrossingstrutted structure was decided upon, as it provided the necessaryrigidity and size, while providing multiple points at which cells could anchor.
Once the collagen scaffold was printed,the team seeded it with ovarian follicles to create the finishedbioprosthesis. At that point, the researchers turned towards testingthe product, implanting their creation into mice whose ovaries had previously been removed.
The results of the experiment wereextremely positive, with the mice ovulating, and eventually givingbirth to healthy young, which they subsequently nursed as normal. The bioprosthesiswas able to support the growth of blood vessels without any externalstimulation, and the implant was found to have restored the animals'hormone cycles. It's believed that similar effects might be achievedwith human patients.
Furthermore, the researchers believethat the bioprosthesis could be of particular use for treatingsurvivors of childhood cancers. An estimated 1 in 250 adults hassurvived a childhood cancer, the treatments for which cause anincreased risk of infertility as adults.
Clinical trials would have to take place before patients could benefit from the pioneering new treatment, but in the long run, it could have a big impact on the field.
"We developed this implant withdownstream human applications in mind, as it is made through ascalable 3D printing method, using a material already used inhumans," said lead study author Monica M Laronda, PhD. "We hope to one day restorefertility and hormone function in women who suffer from the sideeffects of cancer treatments or who were born with reduced ovarianfunction."
The findings of the research werepresented at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Boston.
Source: The Endocrine Society