Prosthetic ovaries made of gelatin have allowed mice to conceive and give birth to healthy offspring
Such engineered ovaries could one day be used to help restore fertility in cancer survivors rendered sterile by radiation or chemotherapy. This “landmark study” is a “significant advance in the application of bioengineering to reproductive tissues.
Reported in the journal Nature Communications, the result is due to researchers coordinated by Ramile Shah and Teresa Woodruff, of Northwestern University, in collaboration with McCormick School of Engineering.
Artificial ovaries, once implanted in mice (in the place where they were natural ovaries), led to an increase in hormone production, a restoration of fertility and finally the birth of healthy mice.
To make these artificial ovaries so efficient are the architecture and materials used by the team.
In particular, the material used is gelatin, a derivative of collagen, which makes the scaffolds sufficiently rigid to be implanted during surgery, but also flexible and porous enough to interact naturally with the tissues of the body.
Once implanted in mice, the structure was immediately integrated with other tissues. The blood vessels have formed and the eggs have matured. Furthermore the ovaries printed in 3D have restored the ideal hormone function for reproduction, which allowed the conception and birth of puppies, as well as lactation.
The aim of long-term research is to be able to restore fertility to women no longer able to conceive as a result of diseases or treatments, especially chemotherapy.
In fact, the beneficiaries of the research could be – in the first place – patients survivors of childhood tumors, which unfortunately lead to a high risk of infertility in adulthood.
Indeed, in the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis, young women have the greatest concern that treatment can irreversibly influence their fertility.
Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute, explains:
“Using bioengineering in place of transplants to create organic structures that are capable of functioning and restoring the health of a given tissue is the Holy Grail of regenerative medicine”.
But that is a long way off. Ovarian scaffolds for humans will need to be specifically designed to host blood vessels because of their larger size, a challenge any large “printed” body part will have to overcome. Vascularization is the main limitation to printing large pieces of functional tissue. Once this problem is solved, ready to implant organs should be possible with 3D bioprinting.
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