MAR 29, 2017 2:46 PM PDT

A Woman's Period Cycle, Replicated on a Microchip

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Is it really possible to simplify the entire female menstrual cycle to a Petri dish in the lab? After all, the complexities of this process can still escape the scientists studying it and women who endure it every month. But a team from Northwestern University says they’ve achieved this milestone.

And while it certainly doesn’t physically resemble the biological version, it’s considered the first equivalent of the female reproductive system in a dish. The mini organ can mimic the female menstrual cycle, offering biologists an unprecedented way to study female health and reproductive concerns.

The palm-sized device contains 3D cube models of the organs making up the female reproductive system. This includes the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and vagina. Scientists seeded each cube with the appropriate stem cells from either humans or mice. And the cubes are connected by small channels, which function like blood in the human circulatory system.

Because the artificial organs are intricately connected, any secretion of hormones gets carried to the other organs. This design successfully mimicked the various phases of the menstrual cycle. So far, the system is programmed around a 28-day cycle, but this may be adjustable later on.

"We think we can go longer, but what we're reporting is 28 days," said Teresa Woodruff, director of the Women's Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and the study’s senior author. "What we're mimicking here is the menstrual cycle itself."

The device is dubbed “EVATAR,” after the female form of an “avatar.” "Avatars are representations of actual people," said Woodruff. "Eve is kind of the mother of all humans; EVATAR is kind of the mother of all microhumans."

But how do scientists know if EVATAR can accurately mimic a woman’s monthly cycle? As it turns out, the scientists can measure levels of biomarkers that correlate with cycle changes, such as ovulation and shedding of the uterine lining. In fact, these built-in controls were among the reasons why a female reproductive system was built first instead of a male reproductive system, which lacks the same markers.

The team has big expectations for EVATAR in many fields of women’s health.

"The systems are tremendous for the study of cancer, which often is studied as isolated cells rather than system-wide cells," said Joanne Burdette, one of the co-author of the study. "This is going to change the way we study cancer." Other areas of women’s health that may benefit from EVATAR include conditions like fibroids, endometriosis, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Moreover, birth control and fertility studies should also find significant use in EVATAR.

Additional sources: Live Science, BBC

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 20, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
AUG 20, 2019
Discovery of Bone Bits in Blood may Help Explain Vascular Calcification
As we age, calcium can build up in various tissues in the body, and cause them to harden in a process called calcification....
SEP 18, 2019
Health & Medicine
SEP 18, 2019
Honey As An Antibacterial Against Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
Honey has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years to treat wound infections, gastrointestinal ailments, and burns. Because of th...
OCT 07, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
OCT 07, 2019
The Three Common Herbs Combating High Blood Pressure: Molecular Mechanism Revealed
Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure is a serious condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 of...
NOV 20, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
NOV 20, 2019
New diagnostic technology seeks out cancer DNA in blood
For many cancers, early detection has a tremendous impact on patient outcomes. Yet, sadly, many of the most common malignancies, like those of the stomach,...
NOV 12, 2019
Immunology
NOV 12, 2019
Allergy Shots May Work for Kids with Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome
It’s not common for young children to develop pollen food allergy syndrome (PFAS), but for those that do, there’s not too much parents can do o...
DEC 09, 2019
Clinical & Molecular DX
DEC 09, 2019
Astronauts help to advanced personalized medicine
Extreme temperatures and lethal levels of radiation are just some of the hazards faced by astronauts as they traverse the harsh conditions of space. Additi...
Loading Comments...