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Female ‘Organs-on-a-chip’ Capable of Replicating Complex Hormonal Cycles

Female reproductive systemResearchers supported by the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program have developed a model of the human female reproductive system on a chip that is able to mimic the complete 28 day menstrual cycle. This class of technology, often referred to as organs-on-a-chip, is designed to allow researchers to better study human cells outside of the body in environments that closely resemble what they would experience inside of the body. It is hoped that in the future these chips can replace animal models, which sometimes do not replicate what will eventually be observed in humans, for testing the toxicity of new drugs.

In this new study, Dr. Teresa Woodruff and colleagues were able to construct a miniature female reproductive system that includes ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and liver (an important organ for drug metabolism) that can be studied in the laboratory.  Each of the miniature organs are formed from the appropriate cell types grown in small plastic cubes and are then connected with microtubing that allows computer controlled flow of liquids containing nutrients and hormones much like the bloodstream would connect organs within the body. This artificial female reproductive system, which the research team has called EVATAR, is generated from human female reproductive tissues donated from surgery patients, except for the ovaries, which are from mice.  Healthy human ovaries are not typically removed surgically.  By adding the appropriate hormones to the system, Dr. Woodruff was able to demonstrate EVATAR was able to mimic an entire 28 day menstrual cycle, as measured by the cycling of hormones in the system and ovulation.

EVATAR represents a significant advancement in the ability to study the female reproductive tract, not only for drug testing, but also as a model for diseases such as endometriosis, cervical cancer, and infertility. This research was supported by the National Center for the Advancing Translational Sciences’ (NCATS) Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program with funding from NCATS, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Common Fund, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Office of Women’s Health Research.

Learn more about this research by watching a video produced by Northwestern University and by reading the press release.


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This page last reviewed on January 17, 2024