Infertile women and survivors of childhood cancer could have their fertility restored thanks to 3D printing technology and the work of researchers from Northwestern University and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.
Monica Laronda, Ph.D., Director of Basic and Translational Research, Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration Program at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and her team have already made great strides toward this goal. In 2016, Dr. Laronda and her team used 3D printing technology to create a bioprosthetic ovary that restored hormone production and fertility in ovariectomized mice. The ovary was successfully implanted, and the mouse went on to produce a heathy litter. In that study, a 3D scaffold was bioprinted using animal collagen and was populated with ovarian follicles.
That study served as a proof of concept that it would be possible to achieve the same goal with human patients, such as women that had become infertile after undergoing treatment for cancer in childhood.
Further advances have now been made. In order to achieve the same goal in humans, it was necessary to learn how scaffolding elements could influence folliculogenesis and provide the extracellular cues required for a functional biosynthetic ovary. While studies have been performed on human ovaries to identify the matrisome – the 1000 or more genes responsible for encoding the extracellular matrix and their associated proteins – the differences between the two main compartments of the ovary and the 3D composition were not well understood.
The researchers mapped out a pig ovary and identified its structural proteins and their locations. The researchers used a porcine ovary as it had similar compartmentalization and folliculogenesis waves to human ovaries. 42 matrisome proteins were identified, including 11 that had previously not been identified in ovarian protein analyses, along with spatial differences that may influence folliculogenesis.
“Our goal is to use the ovarian structural proteins to engineer a biological scaffold capable of supporting a bank of potential eggs and hormone producing cells,” explained Dr. Laronda. “Once implanted, the artificial ovary would respond to natural cues for ovulation, enabling pregnancy.”
In November 2019, Dr. Laronda and three of her researchers were awarded a patent for an artificial ovary and they have also now created a bioink that they believe could be used to create a functional biosynthetic ovary for transplantation into female patients.
“The structural proteins from a pig ovary are the same type of proteins found in humans, giving us an abundant source for a more complex bio-ink for 3-D printing an ovary for human use,” said Dr. Laronda.
You can read more about the study in the paper – Proteomic analyses of decellularized porcine ovaries identified new matrisome proteins and spatial differences across and within ovarian compartments – which was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-56454-3