Many women whose fertility has been damaged through cancer treatment, age or disease may just have resigned themselves to the idea that they may never naturally conceive a child.
That might be about to change.
Scientists from Northwestern University have experimented with 3D printing technology to develop biosynthetic ovaries. They announced in May that the ovaries have successfully produced healthy living mice.
Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of Engineering collaborated on the technology, which centered on creating a basic framework of collagen. The scientists were able to study the framework after stripping a biological ovary of its original tissues, blood vessels and follicles via a chemical process.
“You tend to think of the skeleton as bones in a body that hold up our flesh,” explained Dr. Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist at Northwestern and study co-author. “But, interestingly, every type of organ has an extracellular matrix made from stiffer substances that act like scaffolds.”
After studying the original ovary framework, scientists were then able to “print” various versions using a special broken-down collagen, or gelatin, as the “ink.”
“Most hydrogels are very weak, since they’re made up of mostly water, and will often collapse on themselves,” said Northwestern study co-author Ramille Shah in a press release.“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 self-supported geometry.”
The team then seeded the different frameworks with follicles, determining which ones would develop the requisite blood vessels and tissues to support an egg. Once they found a
Kat Merck is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. An amateur naturalist who studied forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, she writes on a wide range of topics for local and national publications.