Scientists have successfully 3D printed ovaries that not only boost hormone production and actually ovulate, but also produce healthy offspring.
The discovery is a breakthrough for those with ovarian damage due to childhood cancer treatment, or others suffering from fertility issues.
The researchers, from Northwestern University's school of medicine teamed up with McCormick school of engineering to develop the ovaries. The team removed the mice's existing ovaries, sterilized them, preserved the tissue and preserved the cells that produce hormones. Then they printed the new ovaries, using each mouse's own ovarian follicles as a framework.
Incredibly, the team was able to conclude that the 3D printed ovaries both boosted hormone production, and increased the fertility of the mice - which went on to produce eggs, ovulate, give birth to healthy babies and even nurse them due to the blood vessels that formed. To apply this discovery to humans, the researchers suggest those about to undergo undergoing cancer treatment could freeze their ovaries, allowing new ones to be printed from their own in the future.
Now, this has been done to some extent before. But what makes this research different is the materials used. They need to withstand the trauma of surgery, and be porous enough to work with other organs.
By using gelatin (which makes up most of our soft tissue) in the 3D printing process, the team was able to make ovaries that met this criteria.
The team will next move on to replicating the process in pigs, and says human trails will occur within the next 10 years.