Using human and mouse tissues and artificial sex hormones, it has been possible to create a 3D model of a human menstrual cycle artificially.

A scientist manipulates a Petri dish.

Little by little scientific advances have led to recreation in laboratory artificially of many biological processes, including full functional organs in 3D. Many of these biological processes come to be developed on such a small scale that they fit on a computer chip, as was the case with chips that mimicked the lungs, whose objective was to avoid animal experimentation.

Now, thanks to researchers at Northwestern University, whose work has recently been published in Nature Communications, it has been possible to develop a miniature 3d model that perfectly mimics the female reproductive system: ovaries, allopic tubes and reproductive organs; all of them connected are capable of carrying out a 28 day menstrual cycle complete in laboratory.

The chip capable of producing it

For the study, the researchers used up to five different types of fabrics coming from both Humans like mice. On the one hand, the tissues responsible for creating the fallopian tubes, the endometrium -the tissue that lines the uterus-, the tissues of the cervix and the liver came from human beings; on the other hand, the ovaries were obtained from mice, since this tissue is difficult to obtain in humans.

Likewise, since sex hormones Necessary in this process – estradiol and progesterone – are identical in all species, there were no problems mixing them with the different tissues, despite the fact that they came from different species.

After tissue culture, another hormone more, the FSH, from the cerebral pituitary and necessary to activate the ovaries, which in turn secrete the aforementioned hormones to carry out the menstrual cycle.

All these tissues, together with the necessary hormones, were able to survive and continue to function during the 28 days that a complete menstrual cycle lasts, recording all the changes in amounts of each hormone as expected. The researchers detected the egg creation in the tissue of the ovary of the mice, and the sex hormones were able to activate the fallopian tubes so that they could transport the eggs to the uterus – just like in a natural menstrual cycle in vivo-.

Imitating hormones in the laboratory

To make all these interactions between tissues occur as expected, the researchers mimicked nature by using use of microfluids. Thanks to this technology, it was possible to precisely control the flow of the different essential chemicals and their volume along the channels within each tissue.

Thanks to this, the researchers avoided the typical problems of using cell cultures: in a normal cell culture everything is static, which means that the debris from cell metabolism remains around the cells. Thanks to microfluidics, it was possible to carry nutrients and remove waste for disposal. Something similar to what happens in the human body, where this process of nutrition and elimination of waste is carried out by the blood vessels and the lymphatic system.

Finally, now that the menstrual cycle has been replicated in the laboratory, the researchers suggest that the use of contraceptive treatments can be more easily studied; or also explore what about the various cancers that occur in the tissues involved in a normal menstrual cycle -ovarian, endometrium, uterus and fallopian tubes-, and if these cancers are influenced by hormones.