2, Department of Pediatrics, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, United States
Hormones produced by the ovary support reproductive tract development and function, and are important for systemic health. The additional systems that are supported include brain, bone and cardiovascular tissues. There is a great need for mimics that represent the dynamic functionality of reproductive tissues in order to improve our understanding of normal function, function affected by disease or disease treatments and to improve current options for our patients. This includes restoring fertility and hormone function for survivors of childhood cancer who develop premature ovarian failure following their life-saving treatments. This particular population would benefit from hormone restoration in addition to new options for preserving and restoring gametes for future biological offspring, as they transition through puberty and may be put at significant risk of co-morbidities without normal ovarian hormones. The female reproductive tract is uniquely different from most model organisms and has forced researches to develop creative ways to study the human condition. We have turned to engineering solutions to facilitate our quest for answers to these biological problems. This includes using new biomaterials or tissue reconstructed tissues to recapitulate normal female reproductive tract organs, simulating the paracrine and endocrine crosstalk that occurs among these tissues in a microfluidics system and 3D printing scaffolds to engineer follicle support in a bioprosthetic ovary that restored fertility and hormone function in sterilized mice. We continue to make improvements with these systems to impact reproductive biology research and fertility and hormone restoration for patients.