3D Printed Ovaries Used to Restore Fertility in Mice

3D Printed Ovaries Used to Restore Fertility in Mice

Scientists have successfully 3D printed ovaries and restored fertility in mice. The landmark study could have major implications for fertility treatment in humans.

Bioprosthetic ovaries were created from porous scaffolds of gelatin which were filled with mouse follicles. The ovaries were created by 3D printing layers of 15x15mm gelatin filaments on a glass slide, with mouse follicles inserted into the structure. The team found that the more tightly they were able to weave the gelatin filaments, the greater the survival rate of the follicles after 8 days. Each synthetic ovary contained around 40—50 mouse follicles.

Seven mice had their ovaries surgically removed and replaced with the tightly woven bioprosthetic ovaries. Within 7 days, the bioprosthetic ovaries were vascularized, with blood vessels penetrating the 3D printed gelatin scaffold. The ovaries then started producing eggs naturally, releasing them through pores in the gelatin scaffold. Three of the seven mice gave birth to healthy litters and lactated naturally, demonstrating the follicles released normal levels of hormones.

This is not the first time that synthetic ovaries have been created in the lab, although this is the first study using 3D printed ovaries to restore fertility.

Teresa Woodruff at Northwestern University in Chicago said, “The goal of the project is to be able to restore fertility and endocrine health to young cancer patients who have been sterilised by their cancer treatment.”

If follicles can be harvested from young women prior to cancer treatment for example, they could be inserted into 3D printed ovaries and transplanted back in the patient to restore fertility.

One advantage of 3D printing is it is possible to scale up the process. It would be possible to 3D print ovaries of the size needed for the recipient to implant 3D printed ovaries in children and women.

While 3D printed ovaries have been used to restore fertility in mice, 3D scaffolds for humans would need to be constructed to host larger blood vessels. Vasculature may need to be incorporated into the scaffolds to ensure sufficient nutrients can be passed to the much larger human follicles.

Once the problem of vascularizing 3D printed ovaries for use in humans has been overcome, there is no reason to suggest that the technique would not be successful.
The study – A bioprosthetic ovary created using 3D printed microporous scaffolds restores ovarian function in sterilized mice –  was published yesterday in Nature Communications.

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