In a new paper in the journal Nature Communications, researchers have discovered a new technique to grow 3-D printed “ovaries” in mice. Mice implanted with the “ovaries” were able to give birth to live birth.
To accomplish this, researchers 3-D printed a biodegradable microporous hydrogel scaffold, which holds the cells in and eventually breaks down inside the body. The researchers used gelatin ink as the base for 3-D printing, because it is derived from collagen, an extracellular matrix protein abundant in both human and mouse ovaries and also because it is degradable, which would allow for cellular remodeling in the body.
The mouse’s follicle cells were then placed into the scaffold, which is surgically inserted into the mouse’s body. The female mouse is able to ovulate with these new follicle cells, and can eventually give birth to a live litter.
Past studies have successfully implanted follicle cells in mice to get them to ovulate, and birth live pups, by using a gel-like substance to encapsulate the follicle cells. However, this is the first time the process used 3-D printing to create a scaffold, which researchers say is a “more sophisticated structure,” and allows for a more stable base for the cells.
According to the study, these findings “present an in vivo functional ovarian implant designed with 3-D printing, and indicate that scaffold pore architecture is a critical variable in additively manufactured scaffold design for functional tissue engineering."
This study could eventually be used to help women dealing with infertility, as well as a host of other needs, according to the study. Researchers said the advantage to using the 3-D printing method is the opportunity to scale the size of the tissue needed for the transplant recipient.