As a result of age, or for other reasons, women’s bodies can stop producing the eggs that, when fertilized, can become babies. But now, researchers have developed a 3D-printed scaffolding that could restore that function when implanted in the female body. The scientists who presented their research last week at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Boston, implanted their creation into female mice whose ovaries had previously been removed and the mice gave birth to healthy pups.
To create the pioneering prosthesis, the researchers used a 3D-printer to create a scaffold from the animal protein collagen. They made sure the structure was strong enough to be handled during surgery, as well as spacious enough to house the hormone-producing cells and immature eggs – known as oocytes. After some trial and error, a crisscrossing strutted structure was decided upon, as it provided the necessary rigidity and size, while providing multiple points at which cells could anchor.
Once the collagen scaffold was printed, they seeded it with ovarian follicles to create the finished bioprosthesis. The scaffolding was doped with cells cultured from humans-follicles that produce estrogen, as well as contain the structures that eventually mature into eggs.
At that point, the researchers turned towards testing the product, implanting their creation into mice whose ovaries had previously been removed and the mice were able to ovulate, give birth to healthy pups, and nurse normally. The bioprosthesis was able to support the growth of blood vessels without any external stimulation, and the implant was found to have restored the animals’ hormone cycles. It’s believed that similar effects might be achieved with human patients. Lead study author, Monica M Laronda (PhD), said:
“We developed this implant with downstream human applications in mind, as it is made through a scalable 3D printing method, using a material already used in humans
“We hope to one day restore fertility and hormone function in women who suffer from the side effects of cancer treatments or who were born with reduced ovarian function.”