Scientists have created a device that mimics the female reproductive cycle, hailing it as a breakthrough in the study of diseases that affect hundreds of millions of women and girls around the world. Reporting in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at Northwestern University and beyond note that their "microfluidic culture model of the human reproductive tract and 28-day menstrual cycle" could help them better understand such ailments as endometriosis, infertility, fibroids, and cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancers, per Wired. They used human tissue from fallopian tubes, the uterus, and cervix, plus ovarian tissue from mice to build the device. Human liver tissue filters toxins, reports NPR.
"We were able to recapitulate the full menstrual cycle—a complete menstrual cycle," says lead researcher Teresa Woodruff. The model doesn't look even remotely anatomically correct, but it doesn't have to. A blue liquid flows between clear plastic wells, which are hooked up to a computer and each hold a distinct but interconnected component: a uterus, cervix, ovary, fallopian tube, and liver. Dubbed EVATAR, a female-centric version of "avatar," researchers say they only want to study anatomy and develop treatments, though one bioethicist worries about the implications. "If, hypothetically, you can fertilize an egg outside a body and carry it all the way to term outside the body, then who's responsible for this baby now?" he asks, noting that such a scenario is still a ways off. The team is building a male version, too. (Cancer deaths are are rising in women.)