Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University successfully developed a Vagina Chip: a living model of the human vagina, including its unique microenvironment. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the team created this novel microfluidic organ-on-a-chip to address current challenges in treating bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Disturbances in the vaginal microbiome cause BV, which afflicts nearly 10–30 percent of women of reproductive age worldwide. Antibiotics are currently used to manage acute cases, but the efficacy and safety of this approach is debated by clinicians. Alternative treatment approaches involve probiotics. However, the lack of reliable preclinical models has proven to be a roadblock for assessing their therapeutic potential.
The Vagina Chip changes this.
To create the Vagina Chip, the researchers first replicated the unique vaginal microenvironment by growing colonies of “good” L. crispatus bacterial strains on the chip, then inoculated it with the causative strains associated with bacterial vaginosis—Gardnerella vaginalis, Prevotella bivia, and Atopobium vaginae. The chip’s responses were similar to those observed in patients with BV: an increase in pH, damage to vaginal epithelial cells, and a spike in inflammation.
“The success of these studies demonstrate that this model can be used to test different combinations of microbes to help identify the best probiotic treatments for BV and other conditions,” said co-author Abidemi Junaid, PhD, a research scientist at the Wyss Institute, in a recent press release. The Vagina Chip is now being used to understand the role of the vaginal microbiome in systemic immunity.