In a laboratory at Northwestern University in Chicago, there’s a palm-sized device that “looks like a Japanese bento box” that contains living tissue instead of sushi.
From National Geographic:
One compartment has a bit of mouse ovary; others hold pieces made from a human uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, and liver. The team named the device the EVATAR, a play on the idea of an avatar, or virtual representation of a person, combined with the name of the Bible’s first woman.
OK…. already, I’m a little creeped out. That name is straight out of a ’70s science fiction movie… and those do not usually end well for mankind.
Scientists are reporting today that the device has replicated a full menstrual cycle for the first time. “The tissues produced hormones that coursed through the miniature reproductive system, their levels rising and falling over 28 days.”
“It’s really revolutionary technology,” says study co-author Teresa Woodruff, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University.
The EVATAR will hopefully help scientists better understand how medicines and toxins affect women differently from men. Which is a good thing.
Woodruff’s new device aims to make it easier to test drugs in a system that mimics the female body, a step toward a much-needed revolution in medicine, says Marianne Legato, who heads the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine in New York City.
“I think we’re in a new era of investigation,” she says.
In addition to differences between men and women, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone throughout women’s menstrual cycles also affect their physiology, Legato says.
“Even the composition of saliva is different at the peak of the cycle,” she says, with higher levels of enzymes for digesting food. “So these hormonal fluctuations are an important factor not only in normal function, but can be really isolated as specific targets for new drug developments.”
Other labs have created “organs on a chip,” but Woodruff’s device goes to the next level, says Christos Coutifaris, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Pennsylvania who recently developed a working model of a human placenta.
“She went many steps ahead by putting not just a single organ, but a whole system together,” he says.
Woodruff gathered experts on each part of the reproductive system to build the device; one team worked on the ovary, for example, and another just on the cervix.
Eventually, multiple synthetic systems could be linked up to essentially create a “human in a dish,” some researchers hope, reducing the need to experiment directly on people or animals.
And scientists hope such devices could one day use a patient’s own tissues to tailor treatments to an individual. Woodruff imagines a future in which a person’s medical care might be tailored using a series of personalized avatar devices as their own metabolism changes through the years.
“I think the future of women’s health is bright,” she says.
As long as those “humans in a dish” don’t rise up and demand retribution for being experimented on…