Scientists Have Created World's First ‘Vagina-on-a-Chip’
By: April Carson
Pioneering scientists have developed the first-of-its-kind "vagina-on-a chip," a miniature device that houses living human cells and successfully replicates the cellular landscape of an actual vaginal canal.
The Vagina Chip, an ingenious device that holds bacteria, has enabled researchers to explore the effects of numerous microorganisms on vaginal health. Their discoveries have been published in the journal Microbiome and show how drugs and probiotics are capable of influencing the composition of this delicate microbial environment within a woman's vagina. The device can also be used to study the impact of other factors, like hormones or environmental pollutants, on vaginal health.
According to Gautam Mahajan, a former researcher at Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and first author of the study, "The vaginal microbiome is essential in maintaining both vaginal health and prenatal health." He further added that its impact on these two factors is substantial. The findings of the research are expected to revolutionize the way women's health is studied and treated, allowing doctors and researchers to better understand how different substances interact with the vaginal microbiome.
The Human Vagina Chip is a great way to analyze host-microbiome relations and speed up the production of potential probiotic treatments that involve adding helpful bacteria into the vagina.
Measuring a mere 2.54 centimeters in length, the Vagina Chip device boasts donations from two female cells. Harvested from the vaginal lining and underlying connective tissue, these two components lay adjacent to each other on either side of an impermeable membrane that reflects the 3D architecture of the vaginal wall precisely. Simulated fluids then move between the two layers, creating a lifelike environment in which to study both normal and abnormal behaviors.
After awarding the cells five days of growth in the device, the scientists integrated estradiol - a type of estrogen - into their experiment. The hormone activated certain genes and sparked mucus production; an effect that would have been replicated in real life.
After producing their device, the team conducted tests with normal vaginal microbes- particularly various strains of Lactobacillus bacteria. Studies reveal that these microorganisms make up more than 70% of a healthy vagina's microbiome according to Wyss Institute research reports.
By tracking the bacteria’s growth in different vaginal fluid environments, the team was able to identify which type of fluids would be beneficial for maintaining a healthy microbiome.
The researchers discovered that the Lactobacillus bacteria effectively created lactic acid within the Vagina Chip, which decreased its internal tissue pH. Healthy vaginas usually have a pH of 4.5 or less - an acidic environment that helps impede disease-causing microorganisms from flourishing. Furthermore, adding the Lactobacillus bacteria reduced inflammation in surrounding tissues by lowering the quantity of inflammatory molecules circulating throughout it.
To gain insight into how "bad" bacteria affect the vagina, the research team conducted experiments with bugs associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV). These included Gardnerella vaginalis, Prevotella bivia, and Atopobium vaginae. When each of these organisms was introduced to the Vagina Chip environment they all caused a pH rise along with increased levels of inflammatory molecules and damaged cells in their wake.
The most dramatic effect was seen when the team introduced Gardnerella vaginalis, which caused an up to 10-fold increase in inflammatory molecules. The results are potentially relevant for women suffering from BV, as this infection is associated with a decrease in lactobacilli on vaginal surfaces and with an increase in pH.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns, Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) can dramatically increase one's chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or gonorrhea. These illnesses could cause a dangerous inflammation that might lead to infertility in the future. Additionally, if there is an existing pregnancy while suffering from BV, it is likely that premature birth or low birth weight will occur in babies born as a result. Dr. Achyuta Nori of St. George's, University of London, an expert in sexual health care who was not involved with the research, expressed to Scientific American how this new vagina-on-a-chip has given us a chance to advance women's health through modern technology and discover improved treatments for bacterial vaginosis (BV). "This is an opportunity to bring women’s health into the modern times," said Nori confidently.
The chip gives scientists a unique benefit over testing therapies on lab creatures like mice, whose vaginal microbiomes are quite different than humans'; additionally, it has long been difficult for pharmaceutical companies to recruit human patients for BV treatment trials because of safety worries expressed by participants, the Times was told. This new device may be an important breakthrough in treating bacterial vaginosis quickly and safely.
Although organ-on-a-chip technology has its constraints and is not completely representative of the human vaginal microbiome, it provides a solid foundation for further exploration. The Vagina Chip represents an important first step in this direction. This new device can help enable drug testing and clinical trials, ultimately leading to more effective treatments for bacterial vaginosis.
The researchers behind the Vagina Chip are hopeful that it will open up many possibilities in the field of BV treatment. With its ability to accurately replicate the vaginal microbiome, this device could lead to an increase in successful clinical trial outcomes and a greater understanding of the causes and effects of bacterial vaginosis.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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