Mice Give Birth With 3D Printed Ovaries

Science fiction meets biology meets medicine. Researchers at Northwestern University presented findings in April 2016 at the Annual Endocrine Society Meeting where they created a prosthetic ovary using a 3D printer and implanted it into mice. The hope of this seemingly Frankenstein-esque procedure is to be able to provide fertility to woman who have lost the use of their ovaries due to processes such as trauma, chemotherapy, radiation or resection.

The process begins by printing a scaffold out of gelatin (made from animal collagen). What makes this step crucial is related to the physical properties of human ovaries. When eggs mature in the ovaries, they grow. Once the egg is released, the remaining products (corpus luteum) remains behind to secrete hormones to allow for development of the embryo. Therefore, the scaffold cannot be rigid, but allow for expansion and contraction of the eggs. Not only does the scaffold have to house the growing eggs, but there also has to be room for blood vessels as well.

In these mice, who had had their ovaries surgically removed, the prosthetic was implanted. Subsequently, the mice ovulated (released eggs from the ovaries) and gave birth to healthy pups that these female mice were able to nurse.

The implication of this research is certainly staggering. Is there a chance for other functional organs to be printed and implemented in humans? Will we do away with the need for allograft transplantation? Are there ethical ramifications we need to consider?

As with any new scientific breakthrough, answers will always bring about new questions. However, in terms of improving quality of life, this procedure may be incredibly significant.


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