Researchers at Anne and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago have revealed that they are in the process of creating an “ink” that promises something great for sterile women who want children of their own.
Scientists succeeded in spotting and mapping the locations of structural proteins in the ovary of a pig. It was the first time such feat would be pulled off.
The research team now plans to make use of their findings to develop an ink that will be used to 3-D print ovaries for women in need of one.
“This is a huge step forward for girls who undergo fertility-damaging cancer treatments,” said senior study author Dr. Monica Laronda, Ph.D.
Findings by the researchers were published in Scientific Reports recently.
3-D printing an ovary
Laronda and her colleagues had previously 3-D printed an artificial ovary which they implanted in a sterile mouse. The animal was able to conceive after that and successfully gave birth to live pups.
Results from that previous research appeared in Nature Communications in 2017.
The researchers received a patent for their work in November 2019.
In the current research, the team studied the structure of a pig ovary. It was able to make out the different expression levels of 42 proteins associated with the extracellular matrix (ECM) known as matrisomes. Eleven other similar proteins that were not known previously were also identified.
According to the researchers, structural proteins in the ovary of a pig are similar to those present in humans. These “scaffold proteins” can, therefore, be a rich source of a more complex bio-ink for 3-D printing bioprosthetic ovaries for humans.
“Our goal is to use the ovarian structural proteins to engineer a biological scaffold capable of supporting a bank of potential eggs and hormone producing cells,” said Laronda, who is the director of Basic and Translational Research, Fertility & Hormone Preservation & Restoration Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Once implanted, the artificial ovary would respond to natural cues for ovulation, enabling pregnancy.”
The availability of bioprosthetic ovaries would mean so much to women with infertility and early menopause issues as after-effects of childhood cancer. However, there is more work to be done by scientists before this can become a reality.
According to the research team, there are around 11,000 cancer cases in children aged 0-14 each year in America. Estimate has it that about 1 in every 6 female cancer survivors suffers from early menopause.
Having shown its possible value for 3-D printing an ovary, the technique used in the present research can also prove helpful for other uses.
The researchers said that similar means can be adopted for identifying and mapping structural proteins in other organs. They hope their novel work will drive more research into “the microenvironment of other organs.”