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Breakthrough: 3-D Printed Ovaries Could be the Key to Restoring Fertility

May 17, 2017 11:23 AM EDT

Scientists were able to successfully produce healthy offspring in mice using 3-D printed ovary structures.

According to a report from the Northwestern University, a team of researchers from the university removed an ovary of a female mouse and replaced it with a bioprosthetic one made of 3-D printed scaffolds. Not only was the mouse able to ovulate, but it also successfully produced and nursed healthy pups.

The 3-D printed structure was built to contain immature eggs, and was able to increase hormone production and restore fertility in mice.

"This research shows these bioprosthetic ovaries have long-term, durable function," said Teresa K. Woodruff, a reproductive scientist and director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Feinberg. "Using bioengineering, instead of transplanting from a cadaver, to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person, is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine."

The key to the research's success was the gelatin material they used for the scaffold and its architecture. The team found a gelatin temperature that allowed it to support itself, leading to the ability to create multiple layers.

"This is the first study that demonstrates that scaffold architecture makes a difference in follicle survival," Ramille Shah, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick and of surgery at Feinberg, said. "We wouldn't be able to do that if we didn't use a 3-D printer platform."

The scientists hope to use this study as a jumpoff point to eventually develop ovaries to restore fertility and boost hormone production of women who have suffered from cancer and now have increased risk of infertility. It could also be beneficial in future work in soft tissue regenerative medicine.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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