Mini reproductive systems helping doctors in big ways

There is a new way to test drugs for a specific person without ever trying them on that person. It’s high tech science creating mini reproductive systems for men and women in a lab. Organs that communicate with each other can also tell doctors how to better treat their patients.

From complicated machines to the intricate workings of the human reproductive system, visionaries – engineers and biologists grew organs that look like computer chips.

“As engineers they know how to connect devices together and what we did was work with them to understand how the menstrual cycle works, how the ovary informs the biology of all the downstream tissues,” says Northwestern Medicine Reproductive Biologist Dr Teresa Woodruff,:

“What we wanted to do was build a 3D model to better mimic the human physiology,” says Northwestern Medicine Researcher Dr Julie Kim. “So we took uterine tissue from patients and then we took all of the cells out of that tissue.”

What was left acted as a scaffold to grow the models in a mini uterus. Grown in others were fallopian tubes, cervix, ovary and liver -- all linked together by a series of channels.

“They built a series of fluidic devices that allow the hormones to be moved between each of the organs. You can imagine that’s just like an artery moving our hormones between the ovary and the uterus.”

Looking into the tiny model doctors can see how outside forces would change body chemistry.

“We’ve never been able to look at uterus function or cervix function in the context of a full 28-day cycle, that’s really revolutionary and that’s going to help us with fibroids, endometriosis, polycystic ovary disease, the diseases that impact young women that we’ve not been able to have real breakthroughs for in many decades. This is going to allow us to study those more effectively.”

That’s for women. Directly across the hall, the male adatar, providing similar reproductive information. The ultimate goal is to birth a system that would create other organs so all treating physicians would have the power to know before treatment, whether for infertility or disease, how and if an intervention would work.

“One of the devices we have we call ‘my cure’ so you would have your own tissues including perhaps a cancer tissue in one of these wells and be able to see how those tissues are interacting and how a drug might be able to be effective against your cancer with your liver cells in the face of all the other organs of your body. Is there toxicity in the heart? is there direct effect on the cancer cells?”

The models are still in the earliest level of discovery, but this together with research on biomedical animals and patients will allow for faster development of drugs and safer medications.