Scientists have used 3D-printed ovaries to successfully restore fertility for the first time in what they call "the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine".
A female mouse's ovaries were removed and replaced with 3D printed bioprosthetic ones using gelatin as the "ink" and using eggs from different mice — enabling it to ovulate, conceive pups and give birth, the United States researchers said.
"The pups were [also] supported by the mother's milk — and the pups were able to give birth or sire pups of their own, so they were healthy through adulthood and [they were] fertile," co-lead researcher Assistant Professor Monica Laronda, from Northwestern University and the Ann and Robert H Lurie Children's Hospital, said.
Scientists hope to use 3D-printed ovaries to restore fertility and hormone production in women — particularly those who have undergone cancer treatment, or had childhood cancer.
"There is an increased risk for these patients to display hormone insufficiencies and difficulties getting pregnant and they have a limited number of options to preserve and restore their fertility and hormone function," Dr Laronda told ABC News.
She said it was also hoped human bioprosthetic ovaries could be used to help restore fertility to women with premature ovarian failure.
The research, published in journal Nature, used 3D printing to produce the mice ovaries because it can be "scalable and amendable to changes in size, architecture or materials that may be required for success in humans," Dr Laronda said.
But she said more research was needed before it could be translated for human use.
'First time functional 3D-printed organs transplanted'
It is the first time functional 3D-printed organs have been transplanted, Dr Laronda said.
"We were also the first to develop a functional soft tissue transplant using 3D printing," she said.
Northwestern University's Women's Health Research Institute director Teresa K Woodruff said it was a significant achievement for regenerative medicine.
"This research shows these bioprosthetic ovaries have long-term, durable function," she said.
"Using bioengineering, instead of transplanting from a cadaver, to create organ structures that function and restore the health of that tissue for that person, is the holy grail of bioengineering for regenerative medicine."