DNYUZ.COM – Dr. Don Ingber makes organs for a living. Using flexible pieces of silicone carved with tiny channels, he grows tissues that can mimic the complex physical interactions between cells and fluids, creating malleable, three-dimensional models of organs.
Over the past decade, Dr. Ingber, a bioengineer at Harvard, has made more than 15 of these organ chips, including those simulating lungs, livers, intestines and skin.
And now, as described in a paper published last month, he has added a far less studied organ to the list: the vagina.
The “vagina on a chip” was made from vaginal cells donated by two women.
The model was grown inside of silicone rubber chips the size of a stick of gum, forming channels that were responsive to fluctuating estrogen levels and bacteria.
The study, which was funded by the Gates Foundation, used the vagina chip to mimic how a real vagina responds to good and bad bacterial environments.
The chip successfully mimicked key features of the vaginal microbiome, the swarming communities of bacteria that play a crucial role in the organ’s health, the study found.
The chip is more realistic than other laboratory models of the organ, Dr. Ingber said: “This walks, talks, quacks like a human vagina.”
He and other researchers are optimistic that the tool could offer a better way to test treatments for bacterial vaginosis, an infection of harmful microbes in the vagina which affects an estimated 30 percent of women every year.
“This is a great development, this system,” said Dr. Ahinoam Lev-Sagie, a gynecologist at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem who studies the vaginal microbiome and was not involved in the new study.
Because of safety concerns, it is difficult for researchers like her to test new treatments for patients with recurring infections, she said.
“It’s not difficult to find women willing to donate vaginal samples.” – Dr. Ahinoam Lev-Sagie
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