Although half of the population has female reproductive organs, there are still so many woman-specific health issues that the medical community doesn’t know much about — from endometriosis to infertility, miscarriages, and gynecological cancers. But now, scientists have developed a new miniature device that replicates a woman’s reproductive system, and will hopefully allow researchers to better test new drug treatments and further their understanding of these diseases.
Scientists from Northwestern University created the 3-D technology — dubbed Evatar (like “avatar,” get it?) using tissue from human fallopian tubes, a cervix, and a uterus donated by women who recently underwent surgery, NPR reports. Each tissue type was placed in separate plastic chambers, which were connected through passageways. Special fluid pumps throughout the chambers, performing the function of blood. Researchers were able to mimic a woman’s full 28-day reproductive cycle with the device, including the release of an egg from the ovarian tissue and the production of hormones that occurs during that time.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists write that they found that the chip — which is basically the size of a small cube — will give the medical community an opportunity to better understand women’s reproductive-health issues and develop more effective treatments. “It’s the ultimate personalized medicine, a model of your body for testing drugs. This will help us develop individualized treatments and see how females may metabolize drugs differently from males,” lead study author Dr. Teresa Woodruff said in a statement.
The scientists hope to one day be able to use stem cells from individual patients in the device and create personalized models of their reproductive systems. They also hope to use the technology to improve the ways researchers study cancer, since it is usually studied through isolated cells (other than system-wide cells).
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