Womb on a Chip
Teruo Fujii of the University of Tokyo in Japan and his colleagues are building a microfluidic chip to nurture the first stages of pregnancy. They hope, eventually, to create a fully automated artificial uterus in which egg and sperm are fed in at one end and an early embryo comes out the other, ready for implanting in a real mother. They say using such a device could improve the success rate of IVF.
Womb-on-a-chip may boost IVF successes
Brave New Babies
The children of the future may be conceived and spend their first few days of development on a computer-controlled chip.
In a move recalling Aldous Huxley’s famous production lines for making babies in Brave New World, researchers in the US are building a “chip” that can automatically carry out all the steps involved in IVF, from fertilising eggs to preparing embryos for implantation. Ultimately, such devices—which amount to artificial reproductive tracts—may even be able to sort and test embryos for genetic flaws.
So far researchers David Beebe and Matthew Wheeler have built prototypes that can carry out the major steps involved in IVF, though not all on the same chip. Far more mouse embryos develop successfully on these devices than by traditional methods.
The researchers say they expect the technology will first be used for livestock production, but their eventual aim is to use it for human embryos.
Brave New Babies
Moving the Chip Inside
…scientists are working on the holy grail of microbiology – an in vivo lab-on-a-chip [or Micro Electro Mechanical Systems MEMS].
…researchers are developing technology that could lead to tiny machines that, when implanted in the body – could monitor hormone levels – release drugs periodically and even record data. Such devices…could also serve as birth control by preventing ovulation, or facilitate an entire pregnancy by helping to fertilize the egg and monitor the growing embryo.
Internal embryo monitors of the future would have to be self-contained in the uterus, and they’d have to be able to detect the smallest changes.
Once scientists have mastered these micromachines, the female reproductive system may be the best place to try them out. …the uterus is ‘immune privileged,’ meaning it’s unusual tolerant of foreign material – which includes not only sperm, but also tiny silicon machines.
…in the future, getting pregnant might involve handpicking an egg fertilized by prescreened sperm on a controlled dynamic chip and monitoring it with microscopic mechanical nurses.
mental_floss magazine edition