Led by reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff, a team of researchers at Illinois' Northwestern University has developed what's been described as "the female menstrual cycle in a dish." Known as Evatar, the system contains actual human tissue obtained from women undergoing surgical procedures, and incorporates interconnected 3D models of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, vagina and liver.

The compact system also contains a blue liquid which performs the function of blood, circulating between the compartments via tiny pumps and hoses. In this way, the organ models can communicate with each other via secreted substances including hormones, as they would in the body.

In the immediate future, plans call for the technology to be used for research on conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, cancer and infertility. This would include testing the safety and effectiveness of new drugs, without having to expose actual human test subjects to them.

The liver is included, as it's the organ that metabolizes drugs.

Down the road, the hope is that the technology could allow individual women to each have their own personalized Evatar, using tissue grown from their stem cells. In this way, the effect of certain drugs on that specific woman could be tested before being administered.

"This mimics what actually happens in the body," says Woodruff. "In 10 years, this technology, called microfluidics, will be the prevailing technology for biological research."

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