Scientists grew a working ‘prosthetic ovary’ for a mouse — and it could be a game changer for humans

mice mouse
A mouse, ovary status


It’s common for children who go through radiation or chemotherapy
to end up with damaged ovaries, incapable of supporting a healthy
hormone balance or functional reproductive system. 

If you want to fix that problem, one approach would be to build
new ovaries from scratch. Medical science is on the way to doing
just that.

A team of biologists, pediatricians, and engineers at
Northwestern University have devised and executed a method for
constructing new ovaries for mice. That’s the first step toward
prosthetic ovaries in humans.

The follicles printed from a machine in the lab of Ramille Shah,
a materials science professor at Northwestern. One thread fell
across another, and soon implanted cells started growing in
the space between them. Those threads are thin strings of
gelatin, joined together at precise angles by a 3D printer. All
together they add up to an organic scaffold the shape of a
mouse ovary.

Researchers then implanted tiny oocytes taken from the mouse —
the immature seed cells of the female reproductive organ — in the
spaces between those cells. With time, those oocytes reproduced
from pore to pore, filling up the empty spaces in the scaffold. A
new organ emerged, with engineered gelatin guiding
the mouse’s own cells in an act of regeneration
impossible under normal circumstances.

In a neighboring lab, doctor and biologist Monica Laronda worked
with a team to implant the prosthetic ovary in the original
mouse (the two it was born with having been removed for the
experiment). They found that by letting the mouse heal and
allowing the ovary to grow to maturity, the mouse ended
up with a fully functioning reproductive system again. When
it mated with another mouse, it gave birth.

Here’s a graphic detailing the process, including images of the
prosthetic-ovary-born mice.

3d printed ovary miceNature

Laronda and Shah published a paper detailing
that process
Tuesday in the journal Nature Publications.

It’s a big deal, and not just for the science-fiction appeal of a
3D-printed organ turning out baby mice. A successful
start-to-finish mouse trial of a lab-grown mouse ovary opens
the door to future experiments. It might be years before a
similar successful prosthetic ovary is grown for a human being,
but this is science marching forward in a big way.

You can watch a video detailing the process here: