Scientists have constructed a device that can mimic the way a human female reproductive system works. They hope that this artificial structure, made from living tissue, can help find new treatments for diseases women normally contend with, from infertility to miscarriages and even cancers.
The device has been dubbed the EVATAR, a play on the word “avatar,” NPR reports. According to Teresa Woodruff, a biomedical engineer in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and one of the scientists working on the project, “An avatar is kind of a digital representation of an individual in a virtual environment.” She adds, “So when we thought about this synthetic version of the female reproductive tract we thought of the word EVATAR.”
The researchers took tissues from human fallopian tubes, a uterus and a cervix donated by women who had gone through surgeries. They placed each type of tissue in individual plastic chambers that were connected using passageways so that fluid could circulate through.
One of the chambers had ovarian tissue from mice, because it is difficult to get human ovarian tissue. The system also had human liver tissue to enable it to filter toxins out, and is the size of a paperback novel.
The scientists then triggered the device to produce the hormones that a woman usually has during her 28-day reproductive cycle, which ended in the ovarian tissue releasing an egg.
We were able to recapitulate the full menstrual cycle — a complete menstrual cycle.
With the EVATAR, its creators hope that they can use their invention to learn more about the inner workings of the female reproductive tract. Woodruff says, “EVATAR allows us to think about all the organs kind of connected in a way that eventually we hope will be the future of personalized medicine.” This would hopefully include testing new drugs.
The researchers emphasize that they are only going to use the device for research purposes, and for finding new treatments for diseases. They have also started on a male counterpart of the EVATAR.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.