Sara Reardon in Nature:
In the quest to study human reproduction, scientists have built a rudimentary model of the female system in the lab. Every 28 days, the 'ovary', cultured on a small plastic chip, releases an egg and starts producing hormones to prepare for pregnancy. The hormones travel through a series of tiny channels that mimic Fallopian tubes and into a uterus-like chamber made of human tissue. The system, described in a study1 published on 28 March in Nature Communications, is the latest in a series of organs-on-chips — miniature devices seeded with human tissues and cells that are engineered to model biological functions. Researchers hope that the synthetic reproductive system will provide another avenue for studying diseases such as cervical cancer, and allow them to test new contraceptives and fertility treatments before being used in people. There is no good animal model for the 28-day human reproductive cycle, says Teresa Woodruff, a reproductive scientist at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, and a co-author of the study. The artificial system fills an “urgent unmet need for us”, she says.
All together now
Woodruff and her colleagues named their system Evatar — a portmanteau of Eve and avatar. It contains five ‘organs’ linked together by a blood-like liquid carrying hormones, cell signalling molecules and drugs. The Fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix are made from human tissues obtained from women undergoing hysterectomies. The ovaries, however, are from mouse tissue, because healthy ovaries are rarely removed from women. Tissue for the fifth ‘organ’, the liver, which metabolizes drugs, comes from humans.