Researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago have some good news for women dealing with infertility. They used 3D printed ovaries to get a bunch of mice pregnant, which means that with a little more work, women would could, too. It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds, though. First, the doctors removed the ovary from the mouse and replaced it with a “scaffold” they made out of a hydragel that was stiff enough to house the eggs, but would also interact with the other tissues in the body. Just like a real ovary.
Ramille Shah, one of the co-authors of the study explained it better in the statement the team released. She said, “Most hydrogels are very weak, since they’re made up of mostly water, and will often collapse on themselves. 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.”
In the lab, they gave seven mice the printed ovaries and three of them gave birth. Not only did they have babies, but they also lactated, which means that the ovaries were producing hormones, too.
The 3D printed ovaries could eventually be used in humans.
They’re still a long, long way from using them in women, but it’s a good sign that the mice had healthy babies. Not only do doctors want to use them for women who can’t get pregnant, but since the ovaries are totally functioning, they can also be used to trigger puberty in childhood cancer survivors. Usually after surviving cancer, patients need to go through hormone replacement therapy, but this would do the trick. “We’re thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl’s life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause,” Monica Laronda, another one of the authors told The Guardian.
It’s crazy to think that doctors can just print a device to change someone’s life like that. The future is now, people.