The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.
You can 3D-print pretty much anything these days – from tools to body parts (human heart anyone?), it’s all at the tip of your fingers.
Now, a team from Northwestern University of Chicago has not only far surpassed previous 3D-printing milestones, but has blown them away.
As revealed in a Nature Communications study, Northwestern scientists have managed to 3D-print ovary structures for mice.
Printed using a gelatin “ink”, these synthetic ovaries were planted into female mice after they had their actual ovaries removed. Amazingly, they were not only able to ovulate, but also to give birth to healthy pups and nurse them to full health.
The ovaries, normalized hormone levels within the mother mice, and for all intents and purposes, their performance was indistinguishable from the biological ovaries.
Difficulty conceiving is fairly common in women that have suffered from an ailment or disease – particularly cancer. This type of ovarian harm can also severely impede hormone production, which is particularly risky for pre-pubescent young girls.
This groundbreaking study proves that synthetic 3D-printed ovaries may alleviate conception issues in humans in the not so distant future — thus, eliminating the need for organ donors.
“Using bioengineering, instead of transplanting from a cadaver, to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person, is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine,” co-author Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Feinberg, said in a statement.
Scientists attributed the success of the study to the ink used in the molds. The rigidity of the gelatin (made from broken-down collagen) allowed the ink to be manipulated during surgery, while its porous texture allowed it to properly interact with the mouse’s biology. The team found that at a certain temperature it was possible to print complex, multi-layered structures, which eventually them to the full construction and printing of a synthetic ovary.
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