Using 3D printers to help solve fertility problems

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Over 1.5 million women have fertility issues and the treatments can be time consuming, expensive, and not always successful. Using 3D printing a scientific breakthrough may be a step closer to reality.

A decade ago the promise of using stem cells to cure disease was huge. People expected that medical cures would be coming left and right because stem cells can be made into any cell types in the body and dead or dysfunctional cells could just be replaced. There was a problem though. The cells formed in clumps, not in the precise architecture needed to become eyes, livers, and hearts. Recently advances in 3D printing, where a special printer is used to lay down layer after layer of a material to create incredibly intricate products, has been adapted so human cells can be used. In this study by Northwestern University researchers, the 3D printer created a 3D replica of an ovary out of gelatin and two types of mouse ovary cells which were then implanted into the mice. They had hoped the ovary’s would make hormones like estrogen to help restore a normal hormonal cycle and prevent problems like osteoporosis that women without ovaries can develop but the ovary’s also matured and released eggs that could be fertilized and mice pups have been delivered. If human versions of these ovaries are equally as successful, it could be huge for woman who have polycystic ovarian syndrome or chemotherapy damaged ovaries, although it will be years before it can be fully tested.

Researchers have used 3D printed cells for skin grafts and for prosthetic ears but this is the first example of a complex body part being created that fully works as intended inside the body. Brains, hearts, and livers are much more complicated structures but with trial and error chances are that functional organs can be created with less risk of rejection because it was your stem cells that created them. Of course, there could be unforeseen complication in humans that did not occur mice but it is one step closer to being able to replace a broken organ.

 – Dr. Michael White from the UConn School of Pharmacy