Replica reproductive tract could aid drug trials

pharmafile | March 29, 2017 | News story | Research and Development Woodruff lab 

If most people were asked whether they had heard of a scandal in the pharmaceutical industry, the drug that would more than likely come to mind would be the case of thalidomide. The drug was marketed in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a sleep aid and, later, as a treatment for morning sickness that could be used safely by anyone. The problem was that the drug had only been tested in mice and men; it lead to a worldwide outcry after women had children born with birth defects.

Now, scientists at the Woodruff Lab may have created one piece of a puzzle that could see new treatments be tested outside the human body to gauge impacts on the reproductive system. The device is made up several compartments, each with a piece of ovary, fallopian tube, uterus, cervix and liver made up of human and mouse tissue.

The name of the device is EVATAR, a play upon Eve and avatar, and could help simulate the effects of developmental drugs on the reproductive system. The separate compartments are connected through tubes which allow fluid to flow through the system, effectively mimicking blood flow and allowing hormones to be introduced.

Once hormones had been added to the system, the living tissue reacted as a reproductive system would – by secreting their own hormones, even contributing to changes in follicle growth and behaviour.

Eventually, this could help correct a balance in clinical trials – which are still more likely to contain men than women. If drugs were able to be tested at different stages of the reproductive process then the different impact of hormones could allow for safer clinical trials in female participants and to provide insight before a drug went to trial in human trials.

It should be cautioned that, though the research represents a breakthrough in science, it is still a long way from practical application, particularly as it uses mouse tissue. However, the ability to create such small-scale working systems is a positive development for future discoveries.

Ben Hargreaves

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