It seems like each day the list of things that can be 3-D printed gets longer and more diverse. At the moment, that list includes things like guns, food, jewelry, machinery, prosthetic limbs, and the latest: 3-D printed ovaries in mice.
Yes, you read that correctly. Scientists have actually used a 3-D printer to create viable mouse ovaries capable of producing normal, healthy offspring. The obvious endgame is perfecting the process to the point where humans will have the same option as these tiny, furry creatures. As with anything this groundbreaking, the questions are mainly how, why, and when are these technologies to be used for the wellbeing of humankind — so let’s get to it!
It’s possible that we’ll look back on 3-D printers in the same way we view commodities like radios, televisions, or smartphones — nearly everybody has one and they’ve become an integral part of modern society. Who knows? It may just be coming to a Wal Mart pharmacy near you!
3-D Printed Ovaries and the Possibilities
While such a time as this may be a while off, 3-D printing really is a revolutionary technology that is only going to get more advanced. As one of the researchers of the study looking into printing mouse ovaries, Teresa Woodruff put it,
“It’s really the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine… It’s just like the 3-D printers people have in their homes, but the ink in this case is a biological ink.”
Obviously, the end game of this technology is not to birth mice using 3-D printed ovaries. Rather, Woodruff and her team are seeking to restore fertility in women who have become sterile after undergoing chemotherapy or other damaging procedures. Current methods of preserving a woman’s ovarian tissue involved freezing samples to be transplanted later — some doctors even attempting the procedure with entire ovaries.
However, these methods do have their significant drawbacks. The main issues are that the transplants can still harbor cancerous cells, or that they may only work for a limited amount of time.
So how exactly do these 3-D printed ovaries work? I’m glad you asked:
Using a naturally occurring Gelatin, the printer squirts this ink into incredibly precise structures layer-by-layer until a 3-dimensional object modeled on a natural ovary emerges. The synthetic ovary contains tiny pores that recreate the natural microenvironment of the organ, into which researchers place follicles containing immature eggs and the cells needed for hormone production and other functions. Once these “devices” are transplanted into the host, blood vessels actually start attaching themselves to the now partially artificial ovaries and begin functioning.
Of the seven mice with these 3-D printed ovaries, 3 produced healthy offspring. That said, there’s still an incredible amount of research needed before the first human trials of such a technology can be conceived of, especially dealing with the complexity of hormones, reproduction, and all that goes with it!
Now, it’s not likely that these 3-D printed ovaries will be better than the real deal, yet having the option can open up new medical possibilities we’ve only dreamt of. For now, mice continue to be the unwitting recipients of some of the most incredible breakthroughs modern medicine has to offer!