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Biotechnology: Female menstrual cycle replicated in a dish

Nature Communications

March 29, 2017

The 28-day menstrual cycle of the human reproductive tract can be mimicked using “organ-on-a-chip” technology, reports a paper published in Nature Communications. The study demonstrates for the first time that various reproductive tract tissues can be successfully cultured together with other tissues for a full month and observed to release hormones, as found in a normal menstrual cycle. The technology may provide a platform for drug discovery efforts.

The female reproductive tract consists of various tissues - the ovary, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix - and these tissues have a range of functions, including the regulation of sex hormones. Given the complexity of this interplay between tissues and hormonal control, it has been difficult to mimic such a process in the laboratory.

Teresa Woodruff and colleagues generate a microfluidic platform that can maintain five tissues together for a longer period of time than previously achieved. In this device, fluid can flow over the tissues and they are under pressure, mimicking what happens in the body. The authors combine mouse ovary with human fallopian tube, endometrium (the membrane that lines the uterus), cervix and liver tissue in the device for 28 days. Peaks of oestrogen at the end of the follicular peak and the suppression of progesterone were observed, as seen in the menstrual cycle.

The current limitation of this work is that it only mimics hormone secretion and does not reflect the full function of the reproductive tract (to support offspring) or indeed show how other factors, such as the immune system, may affect this. However, this is an important step in understanding reproductive tissue function, which could pave the way for future developments in drug discovery (contraceptive or fertility treatments) or toxicology studies.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms14584

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