Mouse with 3D-printed ovaries gives birth to healthy pups

Researchers over at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, have successfully restored fertility in mice by using 3D-printed bioprosthetic ovaries, an achievement what they've called "the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine".

"Prior to the detrimental effects of the disease or disease treatment we would isolate and freeze their ovarian tissue to preserve the follicles - potential egg cells surrounded by the steroid-producing cells - and then transplant them back in, within the 3D printed scaffolds, once the woman is ready to conceive or requires hormone restoration". "We're basically using the building blocks of our internal organs, gelatin that comes from collagen and we're able to put that into the 3-D printer and basically instruct it to create the architecture of an ovary", said Teresa Woodruff, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Not only were they able to ovulate, but they also managed to give birth to healthy pups that were nursed to full health. "No one else has been able to print gelatin with such well-defined and self-supported geometry". Blood vessels from each mouse had infiltrated the scaffolds, a critical development as it provides oxygen and nutrients to the follicles, allowing hormones produced by the follicles to circulate in the blood stream. "We're thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl's life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause", Laronda said.

The open nature of the structure influenced how follicles and immature eggs behaved, the scientists observed.

The researchers hope theirwork could some day help infertile adult women who have been through cancer treatment, as well as childhood cancer survivors who would otherwise need hormone replacement therapy to trigger puberty.

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The scaffold used in the study serves to recapitulate the manner in which the ovary functions.

Within the bodies of each mouse, explained Woodruff, the structure had become "a functionalized soft-organ transplant". 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. The mouse mothers also lactated normally, a sign that the follicles in their ovaries were producing the correct amount of hormones.

"There's a lot of different knobs we have yet to turn in order to really make a long-lasting bioprosthetic ovary", she said, according to CNN. To easily identify pups born from mice with 3-D ovaries, researchers genetically engineered the bioprosthetic ovaries with mouse eggs to glow green. For those not overly familiar with reproductive anatomies, ovarian follicles are the fluid-filled sacs that each contain an oocyte, or immature egg. The 3D printed ovaries started releasing eggs naturally through the gelatin structure eventually after the blood flow began.

Ideally, cancer patients would go through the process before treatments that harm fertility. Through a series of trial and error experiments, the researchers discovered the best way to print the scaffolding from gelatin fibers that contained a series of tiny pockets to hold ovarian follicles.

  • Marjorie Miles