Researchers have developed a new kind of reproductive technology, which they recently tested out on a group of mice. This technology -- while still very new -- could be developed for human use in the future.
According to CNN, a group of scientists published new research to the journal "Nature Communications" on May 16. In it, they described the process of creating what they termed the "3-D printed bioprosthetic ovary," and how the 3-D ovary functioned when tested out on mice.
Ovaries are made up of follicles, which contain a single egg that is surrounded by hormone-producing cells. Each month, in a process called ovulation, hormones in healthy ovaries trigger the release of one egg into the fallopian tube, where it may possibly be fertilized.
The goal of the group of scientists was to create an artificial ovary which would allow this process of ovulation to occur. A 3-D structure was made out of a material called hydrogel, which is mostly water but contains a little polymer to add strength. The material was fashioned to contain small pores in which follicles could be placed.
After follicles had been added to the 3-D ovary, it was transplanted into mice whose ovaries had been removed. According to The Guardian, seven mice mated after receiving the 3-D ovary transplant. Of those seven mice, three gave birth to pups which would go on to reproduce normally later on in life.
The success of this experiment has opened up possibilities of using similar technology in human patients in the future. One of its uses could be to make artificial ovaries for women whose reproductive systems have been damaged by cancer treatment.
"Our hope is that one day this ovarian bioprosthesis is really the ovary of the future," said article co-author Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist and director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, reports The Guardian. "The goal of the project is to be able to restore fertility and endocrine health to young cancer patients who have been sterilized by their cancer treatment."
In addition, it is also thought that this technology could be used to help those whose eggs have been so damaged by cancer treatment that they need hormone replacement therapy in order to trigger puberty.
"We’re thinking big picture, meaning every stage of the girl’s life, so puberty through adulthood to a natural menopause," said Monica Laronda, another co-author of the study, according to The Guardian.
Article co-author Ramille Shah, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at McCormick School of Engineering, thinks that a human implant could be made within five years, reports CNN. However, there is still much work to be done before this becomes a reality.
"There's a lot of different knobs we have yet to turn in order to really make a long-lasting bioprosthetic ovary," she said, according to CNN.