Scientists Create 'Vagina on a Chip':
By Alice McCarthy, Medscape, February 09, 2023
Mar 3, 2023 - 3:21:27 PM
For years, women's health advocates have argued that far more research is needed on women's bodies and health. The world's first-ever "vagina on a chip," recently developed at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, could go a long way to making that happen.
"Women's health has not received the attention it deserves," says Don Ingber, MD, PhD, who led the team that created the vagina chip. The advance quickly drew media attention after it was reported in the journal Microbiome in late November. But researchers hope for more than headlines. They see the chip as a way to facilitate vaginal health research and open the door to vital new treatments.
By now, you may have heard of "organs on chips": tiny devices about the size of a flash drive that are designed to mimic the biological activity of human organs. These glass chips contain living human cells within grooves that allow the passage of fluid, to either maintain or disrupt the cells' function. So far, Ingber and his team at the Wyss Institute have developed more than 15 organ chip models, including chips that mimic the lung, intestine, kidney, and bone marrow.
The idea to develop a vagina chip grew out of research, funded by the Gates Foundation, on a childhood disease called environmental enteric dysfunction, an intestinal disease most commonly found in low-resource nations that is the second leading cause of death in children under 5. That's when Ingber discovered just how much the child's microbiome influences this disease.
The vagina chip could help scientists find new treatments for bacterial vaginosis, vaginal yeast infection (candidiasis), chlamydia, and endometriosis.
Stemming from that work, the Gates Foundation turned its attention to newborn health — in particular, the impact of bacterial vaginosis, an imbalance in the vagina's bacterial makeup. Bacterial vaginosis occurs in 1 out of 4 women worldwide and has been linked to premature birth as well as HIV, HPV persistence, and cervical cancer.
Upon establishing the Vaginal Microbiome Research Consortium, the foundation asked Ingber to engineer an organ chip that mimicked the vagina's microbiome. The goal was to test "live biotherapeutic products," or living microbes like probiotics, that might restore the vagina's microbiome to health.
No other preclinical model exists to perform tests like that, says Ingber.
"The vagina chip is a way to help make some advances," he says.
Pushing for More Women's Health Research
The Gates Foundation recognized that women's reproductive health is a major issue, not only in low-income nations, but everywhere around the world. As the project evolved, Ingber began to hear from female colleagues about how neglected women's reproductive health is in medical science.
"It is something I became sensitive to and realized this is just the starting point," Ingber says.
Take bacterial vaginosis, for example. Since 1982, treatment has revolved around the same two antibiotics. That's partly because there is no animal model to study. No other species has the same vaginal bacterial community as humans do.
Source: Ocnus.net 2022