Published: Wed, May 17, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

3D printed ovary implants produce healthy offspring

That material is gelatin, which is a biological hydrogel made from broken-down collagen that is safe to use in humans.

Infertile mice have given birth to healthy pups after having their fertility restored with ovary implants made with a 3D printer.

The strategy with 3-D printing is to take more advanced tissues that have been engineered by hand and recreate them with 3-D printing, he said.

"The objective of this scaffold is to recapitulate how an ovary would function". The team of scientists, from Northwestern University, published the results in Nature Communications today (May 16). "We are hoping that we can eventually develop a successful bio prosthetic ovary that can help pre-pubertal children, girls who are being sterilized by cancer treatment enable them to go through puberty as well as young women who have fertility threatening conditions".

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In their study paper, the authors note that current approaches - including in vitro fertilization (IVF) and ovarian transplants - do not provide "long-term solutions and leave pediatric patients with metastatic disease without options".

Follicles, the basic unit of the ovary, consist of a single egg surrounded by cells that produce hormones estrogen and progesterone. Finally, they implanted the 3-D printed ovaries into female mice that previously had their ovaries removed.

To survive, the follicles need to be held in a particular way in the 3-D environment. If they move too freely and spread, this will not happen. The 3D printed ovary allowed an infertile mouse to mate and breed two pups. So, this was the starting point for the new study. The recipient mice actually coordinated development of ovarian tissues in their bodies, she said, because the flow of their blood through the pores of this structure helped transform it into a functional bioprosthetic. 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 showed that the more interaction there was with the scaffolding, the less the follicles spread and the higher were their chances of survival.

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The implanted ovary proceeded to ovulate and restore fertility to the mouse, which later gave birth to pups - the mouse "mom" has even nursed those pups, the researchers noted. Some of the live mouse they implanted with the prosthetic organs, after seeding them with egg-containing follicles, had normal young.

The team used gelatin as the "ink" to print the scaffold.

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. "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.

"This is the first study that demonstrates that scaffold architecture makes a difference in follicle survival".

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