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One step closer to 3D bioprinting a prosthetic ovary

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A group of scientists has achieved a significant milestone in the development of a 3D printed and implantable artificial ovary, which could enable infertile women to become pregnant. For the first time ever, the team has identified and mapped structural proteins within a pig ovary, which will facilitate the development of an ink for bioprinting the important reproductive organ for humans.

A number of things can result in damaged ovaries, including certain physiological conditions, like Turner syndrome, and cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Such treatments can negatively impact the reproductive capabilities of certain women. The research being conducted by a team at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is hoping to offer an alternative to women whose ovaries have been damaged.

Bioprinted ovary Northwestern
3D printed mouse ovaries in 2017 (Photo: Northwestern University)

The ongoing research aims to bioprint an implantable artificial ovary which would restore reproductive capabilities to women. In 2017, the research team achieved a huge milestone when it 3D printed an artificial ovary and implanted it into a sterile mouse. The mouse subsequently became pregnant and gave birth to a litter.

In November 2019, the research team took another step ahead when it received a patent for the creation of an artificial ovary. Most recently, the team successfully mapped out the location of structural proteins in a pig ovary, which closely resemble the structural proteins in human ovaries.

“The structural proteins from a pig ovary are the same type of proteins found in humans, giving us an abundant source for a more complex bio-ink for 3D printing an ovary for human use,” explained Dr. Monica Laronda, Director of Basic and Translational Research, Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “We are one step closer to restoring fertility and hormone production in young women who survive childhood cancer but enter early menopause as a late effect. There are still several steps to go and we are excited to test our new inks.”

“This is a huge step forward for girls who undergo fertility-damaging cancer treatments,” added Dr. Laronda, who is also the Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our goal is to use the ovarian structural proteins to engineer a biological scaffold capable of supporting a bank of potential eggs and hormone producing cells. Once implanted, the artificial ovary would respond to natural cues for ovulation, enabling pregnancy.”

More than moving their own research initiative ahead, the methodology used by the scientists to map out the structural proteins in an ovary can also be applied to other organs. In other words, the technique used by Dr. Laronda and her colleagues can help other scientists to investigate—and even replicate—other organs.

“We have developed a pipeline for identifying and mapping scaffold proteins at the organ level,” said Dr. Laronda. “It is the first time that this has been accomplished and we hope it will spur further research into the microenvironment of other organs.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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