Fertility complication and infertility have long been an issue in living creatures, but the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in cooperation with the McCormick school of engineering has created a stand-in, 3D printed ovary for use in mice. The 3D printed prosthetic ovaries used in testing resulted in several infertile mice ovulating normally, successfully breeding, and even being able to nurse their young after giving birth.
The prosthetic ovary allowed mice in the test to experience natural hormone regulation and all parts of the female reproductive cycle normally. This Northwestern University study was published in Nature Communications.
How did they structure the bioprosthesis?
The man-made ovary was structured in a lattice or scaffold, based on the structure of an actual ovary which was determined by chemically stripping tissue and cellular matter away from an actual ovary. According to Teresa Woodruff, the most significant breakthrough was using a special gelatin that was combined with genetic material. The resulting material mimicked the molecular structure of collagen from an actual ovary.
Woodruff’s lab also reported that the gelatin had to be printed within a specific temperature range in order to print correctly. Another of the scientists in that lab found the appropriate temperature to be 30 degrees celsius. The students involved in the project describe the latticework as a “scaffolding” and used follicles from prior ovarian tissue to carry out the experiment.
Did it work?
The synthetic ovary carried immature eggs to maturity and allowed for normal breeding within the previously infertile mice. Alongside normal reproduction, the bioprosthetic ovary also provided stability and natural regulation of reproductive hormones such as progesterone.
By assessing the various functions of ovaries which range from maturing eggs to assisting with hormone regulation, it seems that prosthetic ovaries are effective and do not alter the ability of the next generation to carry out normal lives.
How does this impact humanity?
While this technology has currently only been tested on mice, it is a prospective treatment for young girls who need chemotherapy or other forms of care for cancer. These patients regularly experience infertility and similar issues as a result of chemotherapy, but this treatment may give them a ray of hope in their darkest hours.
What does this mean for the future?
In the future, It may be possible for individuals of any age to have samples of their genetic tissue stored and reproduced via a similar method in case of a serious injury. Reproduction is a core focus of the lives of many, so if preemptive measures can be taken to reduce the risk of loss for as many as the one-in-four affected by infertility worldwide, as reported by the WHO
Infertility currently affects a large portion of the population worldwide, this new procedure may be able to help reduce or prevent infertility in young women and girls who require potentially infertility inducing treatments such as chemotherapy within the next two decades. The most amazing part about this advance is the ability of tested mice that are able to carry on life and reproduction normally in virtually every way.
Perhaps one of the most surprising findings in this study by Northwestern University was the natural hormone regulation during and post birth when using the 3D printed analogues.
Infertility is one of the greatest struggles that couples face in modern times. Hormone irregularity causes many issues within one’s body by itself. This new technique may one day allow individuals to preserve part of their reproductive system and have it recreated in the event of a disaster or accident.