Female reproductive system on biochip boosts gynaecological research
A palm-sized recreation of the female reproductive tract could change the future of research into gynaecological problems affecting millions of women, scientists claim.
The cube-shaped device, called Evatar, is made with human tissue and contains 3D models of ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the womb, cervix and vagina, as well as the liver.
It is part of a larger US project aimed at producing an entire "body on a chip".
Scientists plan to use the device to investigate conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, reproductive organ cancers, and infertility.
Dr Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the US, where Evatar was developed, said: "This is nothing short of a revolutionary technology.
"This will help us develop individualised treatments and see how females may metabolise drugs differently from males."
The device has a "circulation" consisting of artificial blood that is pumped around its different compartments.
Organ models communicate with one another using hormones and other secreted substances to mimic the way they work together in the body.
A liver model is included because it is the liver that processes and breaks down drugs.
The device is designed to identify effective and ineffective drugs early in the process of medicine development, thereby cutting costs.
A key element of the technology is the "universal medium" that takes the place of blood, said the researchers writing in the journal Nature Communications.
"One of the reasons this technology has not advanced in the past is no one had solved the universal media problem," Dr Woodruff said.
"We reasoned that organs in the body are in one medium - the blood - so we created a simple version of the blood and allowed the tissues to communicate via the medium."
The team used ovarian tissue taken from laboratory mice because healthy ovaries are never removed from women unless in exceptional circumstances. Other tissues were human-derived.
Dr Channa Jayasena, consultant in reproductive endocrinology at Imperial College London, said: "The results are exciting and represent an important innovation.
"However, we must remember that the rodent and human reproductive systems have important differences."
Professor Jan Brosens, from the University of Warwick, said: "This is genuinely a remarkable technical achievement that - for the first time - enables integrated analysis of reproductive hormones on different target tissues in a dynamic system.
"I am entirely confident that this novel technology represents a step-change in our ability to pinpoint defects that cause infertility and early pregnancy loss.
"However, it is not a system that can recapitulate all the specialised functions of the reproductive tract or replace IVF."