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New cell model to help test reproductive disease therapies

May. 4, 2017, 9:01 AM

Kevin Osteen, Ph.D., Pierre Soupart Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and his team at the Women’s Reproductive Health Research Center have developed a three-dimensional organ-on-a-chip cell model that mimics the endometrial lining of the uterus in an effort to test therapeutic interventions for reproductive diseases.

Called EndoChip, it is a microfluidic device consisting of the primary cells that simulate tissue and organ-level physiology.

Osteen, professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, collaborated with his graduate student, Juan Gnecco, and biomedical engineers at Vanderbilt University to build the model with a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

EndoChip will allow the team to perform toxicity testing that may lead to new therapies.

“The device that we are building will allow us to connect somatic cells and immune cells in a way that is reminiscent of what happens in the human body, and allow us to examine how the environmental toxicants affect the development of endometriosis,” said Osteen. “This will serve as a testing platform.

“We are focused on understanding the influence of developmental and adult environmental exposures that lead to reproductive disease and dysfunction such as endometriosis and premature birth.”

Endometriosis, the second most common reason for hysterectomies, is a chronic reproductive disease that can result in fatigue, immense pain, bleeding and infertility.

“Our goal is to identify nutritional and pharmacologic agents which may reduce or eliminate reproductive impairments,” Osteen said. “With these models, we are able have an interactive setting and be able to better develop drugs that are more likely to not fail once they move into phase one trials.”

Vanderbilt is one of a few sites building these kinds of organ and tissue models to examine sex-specific contributions to fertility and poor pregnancy outcomes.

The project is fast expanding into collaborations with multiple organizations across the country, he said.

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