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Researchers Step Towards Making 3D Printed Bioprosthetic Ovaries

Researchers are working to help women that suffered from cancer at a young age with 3D printed bioprosthetic ovaries. These ovaries take structural proteins from a pig's ovaries and are able to surgically replace a woman's real ovaries to allow the woman a new start at having a family.

April 14, 2020

Cancer takes a hard toll on the human body, especially if you’re a woman. Cancer treatments often affect a woman’s fertility making it harder to conceive, or making a woman completely infertile. Researchers have been trying to battle this issue for women and have developed a new 3D printed bioprosthetic ovary to be implanted in women who have survived cancer to start a family of their own. 

This article covers:

  • What are the effects of cancer on women's fertility?
  • How was the 3D printed bioprosthetic ovary created?
  • How can a woman preserve her fertility if she has cancer?

What Are the Effects of Cancer on Women’s Fertility?

Cancer treatments can overall have an effect on a woman’s fertility, and possibly make a woman infertile. Harsh procedures such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, and other treatments can have long term effects on fertility. For example, chemotherapy can affect the ovaries, causing a woman to stop releasing eggs and estrogen found within the body. The scientific term for this issue is called primary ovarian insufficiency, or POI. POI can sometimes be temporary and menstrual periods can return back after treatment, but other times, chemo can permanently damage your ovaries, causing infertility.

pregnant woman holding belly
Harsh cancer treatments can have long term effects on a woman’s ovaries and hormones, potentially causing infertility.

Radiation therapy can cause the same sorts of issues within a woman’s fertility. Radiation therapy that is closest to the abdomen, spine, or pelvis, is close to the reproductive organs and can cause issues affecting fertility. This can be prevented by using ovarian shielding, or oophoropexy, a surgical procedure that moves the ovaries away from the area which the radiation will affect. Radiation therapy can also harden the pituitary gland, if radiation therapy is being used closer to the brain because of the gland’s influence on a woman’s reproductive system. The pituitary gland sends signals to the ovaries to produce estrogen to help a woman ovulate.

How was the 3D Printed Bioprosthetic Ovary Created?

Researchers have been trying to help women that have survived cancer, or girls that have been battling cancer throughout their childhood to give them a chance at being able to conceive. They were able to take structural proteins from a pig’s ovary and found that these same proteins can be found in a human ovary. With this discovery, researchers were able to develop a 3D printed bioprosthetic ovary that can be implanted and replace a woman’s ovary and allow the woman to have a child.

The proteins from a pig’s ovary are able to be used to produce a biological scaffold to support a bank of potential eggs in a woman’s body that are able to produce hormone cells. Once the artificial ovary is implanted, the pituitary gland is able to send signals to the artificial ovary and act as a real one to enable ovulation and the chance for a woman to become pregnant. As of now, the 3D printed bioprosthetic ovary is successful for girls that have had cancer most of their childhood that had long term effects on their ovaries and their reproductive system. Researchers are still working on trying to help women that develop cancer later in life that still wish to become pregnant.

How Can a Woman Preserve Her Fertility if She Has Cancer?

Cancer and cancer treatments can be hard on a woman’s fertility, but women should know that they have options if they want to become pregnant later down the road. It is common for a woman to only focus on her cancer diagnosis and not her options for fertility, or the possibility of having a family, but doctors ensure that there are many different ways to preserve your fertility before, or even after cancer treatments.

stethoscope on medical papers
There are ways to preserve your fertility even if you are battling cancer. Talk to your doctor today about your options and what is right for you.

Some of the different ways to preserve your fertility are embryo banking, egg banking, radical trachelectomy, and many more ways that are also under development. Embryo banking can be done before or after treatment, and consists of harvesting eggs, using in vitro fertilization, or IVF, and then freezing the embryos. If you wish to use this form of preserving fertility, you just have to make sure you have a partner, or a sperm donor. Egg banking can also be done before or after treatment and this is the harvesting and freezing of unfertilized eggs. Radical trachelectomy can only be done before treatment and it is the surgical removal of the cervix which preserves the uterus. The only limit for this form of preservation is that it is limited to early stage cervical cancer patients. 

If you are a woman that is struggling with cancer, you are able to look forward to this new invention of the 3D printed bioprosthetic ovary, or you can talk to your doctor about the different options that you have to preserve your fertility. 


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