A Win for Medicine and Women: 3D-Printed Ovaries

A Win for Medicine and Women:

3D-Printed Ovaries

Last week, Nature Communications released its successful study of bioprosthetic ovaries from 3D printing, which restored ovarian function in sterilized mice.

Over the past decade, 3D printing capabilities have caught the attention of science, design and technology industries. And this latest innovation in the medical field proves the technology’s development isn’t slowing down any time soon.

The study reported the investigation of “how scaffold pore geometry affected the growth and maturation of ovarian murine follicles as well as developed a bioprosthetic ovary that restored ovarian function in vivo in mice.”

So, not only were the bioprosthetic ovaries printed and implanted successfully, they actually produced hormones and allowed for conception and live birth for three of the female mice in the study. The news is groundbreaking for women who have lost reproductive ability since it offers a long-term solution as opposed to the short-term treatments currently available, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and ovarian transplants.

The pressure for women to get pregnant by a certain age has been curated by society, but it is also supported by scientific evidence: there are certain years during which a woman’s fertility peaks, and limits that restrain a woman’s ability to conceive as they age. This stigma has increased the use of egg donation, freezing eggs and artificial insemination to increase the likelihood of pregnancy if one isn’t ready during this “primal” pregnancy period. Currently, 12 percent of women aged 15 to 44 in the U.S. struggle to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term.

External factors like genetics and disease also contribute to infertility, along with casual influencers such as disease, radiation and chemotherapy. These are unpredictable elements in which long-term planning can’t always be applied. For example, a 15-year-old may be diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome and never have the chance to freeze her eggs, just as a 28-year-old may be diagnosed with cancer and not have thought about freezing her eggs prior to treatment. This study’s results are promising for factors beyond human control.

With that said, although researchers released these successful results in mice, “hopeful” is the only way to describe the future effect this will have for female humans. Scientific Mag quotes Nicolas Sigaux, a French-based surgeon focused on 3D-printed medical applications: “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.”

Luckily, ovaries aren’t the first organ that researchers, scientists and medical professionals are working on to solve the limiting factor of vascularization. The hope is that through 3D printing, organ implants will soon become part of the standard transplant procedures.

A synopsis behind the science

The scientists constructed the ovaries from gelatin, created by a 3D printer. But in order for these ovaries to be successful implants, follicles, or glands, had to be inserted into the printed scaffolds (printed ovarian models). In living beings, follicles support the production and secretion of hormones. In this study, the follicles supported the release of hormones from the bioprosthetic ovaries.

The report explains how “ovarian follicles are spherical, multicellular aggregates that include a centralized oocyte (female gamete) and surrounding support cells…to produce hormones in response to stimulation from the pituitary.” Therefore, these support cells were realized as follicles, and required for ovulation. It was this connection that allowed for live birth without hormone stimulation or embryo transfer. The report reads, “Ovulation occurred endogenously which depends on estradiol and inhibit production from the follicles seeded within the implanted bioprosthesis.” This highlights the importance of the follicle in the implantation process for 3D-printed ovaries.

The team removed the ovaries from seven mice and transplanted the bioprosthetic ovaries, which were penetrated with blood vessels – the process of vascularization. As blood carries critical nutrients and oxygen to the follicles, the hormones produced by these follicles were able to circulate in the bloodstream.

The successful circulation revealed a healthy production and distribution of hormones from the follicles and the live births from three of the seven mice depicted the first steps in success for future transplants of bioprosthetic ovaries.

Jillian Dara

Jillian grew up an island girl but converted to city style after living in Boston, London, Santiago, and now, NYC. She is a writer, editor and content creator with a desire to share stories in the lifestyle genre. With a particular focus on travel and profiles, she prides herself on sharing the most authentic story for those who aren’t able to share their own.

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