- Women who have survived childhood
cancer or undergone treatment as adults for cancer may suffer from
infertility and defective hormone production due to loss of ovarian
- Novel tissue engineering using 3D
printed ovary helps restore fertility and hormone production in such
A 3D printed ovary scaffold capable of
holding and supporting immature egg cells and the surrounding hormone producing
cells can re-establish fertility and normal ovarian function in women with ovarian failure, according to a study by
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of
Was the Reason Behind A Bioprosthetic
‘Tissue engineered 3D ovary implants could restore normal ovarian function in women with infertility.’
The study mainly aimed
to find a means to
restore ovarian function
fertility and hormone production
in countless women who have undergone
cancer treatments that impact their ovarian function.
Although this study was done in mice, the implant was developed keeping in mind
future human applications
"What happens with some of our
cancer patients is that their ovaries don't function at a high enough level and
they need to use hormone replacement therapies in order to trigger
puberty," said Monica Laronda, co-lead author of this research and a
former post-doctoral fellow in the Woodruff lab.
"The purpose of this scaffold is to
recapitulate how an ovary would function. We're thinking big picture, meaning every
stage of the girl's life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural
estimated that about 1.5 million in the US alone are infertile and nearly a
quarter of them have impaired ovarian function.
To this end, the authors of the study turned to 3D printing technology to produce a
and hoped that their efforts would bear fruit which would one day be able to
help these women.
Did The 3D Printed Ovary Restore Fertility And Hormone Production?
Printing of Ovary - How it is Done
- For their research, the team used
mice whose ovaries had been removed.
- The 3D printed ovary scaffold was made of gelatin, a hydrogel obtained by breakdown of
and therefore safe for human use.
- The key to the scaffold material was that it had to be strong enough to withstand surgical
handling and implantation without collapsing, yet be porous enough to interact with the
body tissuesof the mice.
- After a lot of trial and error, the
team w able to find the correct
temperature at which the gelatin managed to hold itself without
crumbling and permitted addition of multiple layers.
"Most hydrogels are very weak,
since they're made up of mostly water, and will often collapse on
themselves," Shah said. "But we found a gelatin temperature that
allows it to be
self-supporting, not collapse, and lead to building multiple layers. No
one else has been able to print gelatin with such well-defined and
- The geometrical structure of the scaffold was crucial in
determining whether it would be able to support the growth of the immature
ovum and the surrounding hormone producing cells. Achieving the desired geometry would not have been possible
without the 3D printer technology.
Ramille Shah, assistant professor of
materials science and engineering at McCormick and of surgery at Feinberg, pointed out that what
set this research apart from other labs was the architecture of the scaffold and the material, or "ink," the scientists were
- The 3D prosthetic ovary was surgically implanted into mice.
- Following the implant, the mice were able to ovulate, and to
the utter delight of the scientists they gave birth to healthy babies and were even able to nurse them.
"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."
3D printing is done using filaments
. By controlling
between the filaments and the
between the various layers, it is possible to obtain different pore size
The team likens the 3D generated ovary scaffold to that of the scaffolding
surrounding a building which supports the structures within
Similarly, the open structure and geometry of the
3D ovary scaffold are
able to hold and support the immature egg cells of the mouse, permitting
ovulation, organization of the hormone producing cells and also blood vessels
to form that in turn allow
the hormones to circulate in the mouse bloodstream and stimulate lactation
following birth of offspring.
"Every organ has a skeleton,"
said Woodruff, who also is the Thomas J. Watkins Memorial Professor of
Obstetrics and Gynecology and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive
Cancer Center of Northwestern University. "We learned what that ovary
skeleton looked like and used it as model for the bioprosthetic ovary
are the Future possibilities of 3D Printed Ovaries?
The current study establishes the durability of
the prosthetic ovary and marks a highly laudable achievement in the field of
soft tissue regenerative medicine. Together with stem cell technology, it may
be a potential therapeutic option and a life changer for several women with
infertility and hormonal related issues.
- Monica M. Laronda, Alexandra L. Rutz, Shuo Xiao, Kelly A. Whelan, Francesca E. Duncan, Eric W. Roth, Teresa K. Woodruff, Ramille N. Shah. A bioprosthetic ovary created using 3D printed microporous scaffolds restores ovarian function in sterilized mice. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 15261 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15261