Researchers in the US have replicated the female reproductive tract using a 3D model that mimics the natural menstrual cycle.
As part of a collaborative effort to create a human-on-a-chip model, in which the whole body, including the brain, is represented and can be studied in vitro, the researchers built a model containing living cells of each of the five organs necessary for female fertility, including the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
The system, called Evatar, is supplied with the hormones naturally produced during the menstrual cycle, and each of the organs is exposed to them by the flow of a special fluid designed to act like blood. It is also connected to a second organ-on-a-chip system which represents the liver, so that any drugs introduced for testing can be metabolised in a natural manner.
The tissue used to recreate all the organs was derived from hysterectomies, apart from the ovarian cells, which were taken from mice. The researchers say that the model could be used to allow researchers to test drugs with speed and ease, as well as to investigate the causes of illnesses such as endometriosis, fibroids and some cancers.
'There is no good animal model for the 28-day human reproductive cycle,' explained Dr Teresa Woodruff, from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois and senior author of the study. 'This represents not only a revolution in cell culture technique [but also] an evolution of the study of the reproductive tract and disease.'
Other experts have welcomed the study, which was published in Nature Communications. Dr Channa Jayasena, from Imperial College London, said that 'the results are exciting and represent an important innovation', but stressed that 'we must remember that the rodent and human reproductive systems have important differences'.
Dr Woodruff explained that the ultimate goal of this technology is to use stem cells taken from an individual to create a personalised model of their own reproductive system. This could then be used to test drugs and treatments in a safe manner specifically for that person.