A hot topic within biomedical engineering at the moment is that of creating a human ‘body-on-a-chip’. Firstly, an organ-on-a-chip has the ability to recreate the 3D tissue specific structure, within the physiochemical microenvironment as in natural tissue.
These features exceed what can be recreated using traditional cell cultures. To create a human body-on-a-chip, multiple organs-on-chips are combined with vascular channels, which allow blood like fluid to flow between the organs.
The overall goal of human body on a chip project is to be able to create a personalised model of an individual’s body using cells acquired from that individual. The benefit of this is that drugs and treatments can be tested on the model to find the best course of treatment for each individual.
The most recent advancement in this area is the production of the female reproductive system on a chip coined EVATAR (Eve and Avatar). EVATAR consists of five organs integrated on a chip, linked via a blood-like fluid to transport hormones.The whole system could fit in the palm of your hand.
“The most recent advancement… is the production of the female reproductive system on a chip”
Tissues were obtained from humans for the fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and “The potential for EVATAR is vast”. However, ovaries are only removed from women under extraordinary circumstances, so ovary tissue was instead derived from mice.
The importance of the liver to this system may not appear inherently obvious, but it is included because of its role in drug metabolism, making it useful when studying the effects of drugs on the reproductive system.
This project only becomes useful if it mimics the human reproductive system as closely as possible, including the menstrual cycle. To mimic the 28-day menstrual cycle on the chip, first FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) was introduced to the system, and then 14 days later, LH (luteinising hormone) was introduced.
“The whole system could fit in the palm of your hand”
This successfully stimulated the production of oestrogen and progesterone, mimicking the menstrual cycle. Tests showed this system to accurately represent the integration of hormonal signals between organs within the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. EVATAR is therefore the first complete model for the entire female reproductive hormone profile.
EVATAR is superior to the animal models previously used to gain understanding of the reproductive system, because human cells are being used in these models. Not only does this reduce the amount of animal lives sacrificed for the sake of studies, but human models will provide a more accurate prediction of how the human body will respond to certain drugs and treatments.The potential for EVATAR is vast.
It can be used to study several drugs on the reproductive system simultaneously. An individual’s stem cells can be applied to create personalised EVATAR’s which can then be used to find the most suitable treatment for each individual.
“The potential for EVATAR is vast”
There is also potential to infect the systems with various pathogens to observe their effects on the reproductive system; an obvious candidate for such a study being HPV, known to cause cervical cancer.
The possible applications of this reproductive system on a chip gives a glimpse into the future. A future where a greater variety of bodily systems can be recreated on a chip, and eventually all interlink to form the entire human body on a chip.
The prospect to speed up the process of developing new drugs is invaluable, as are the benefits to personalised medicine. Already, work is being done in the same lab to produce the male reproductive system; appropriately coined ADATAR, and hopefully within the near future, many more systems will be developed.