3D lab-grown endometrium reveals inner workings of female reproductive system

Scientists at the University of Leuven in Belgium have gained a new view into the complex workings of the uterus using 3D endometrial cultures grown in a laboratory dish. An article published in Development describes how a lab-grown endometrial organoid improved understanding of uterine diseases.

Currently, scientific understanding of endometrial cancer or weakened fertility is limited due partially to a lack of high quality culture models.

Using individual or small groups of cells harvested from uterus biopsies, researchers grew 3D structures of the endometrium capable of producing mucus and responding to female hormones, similar to its human organ counterpart. This allowed the scientists to mimic the menstrual cycle in the lab. The 3D growth technique also gave researchers the ability to grow diseased endometrium, including ones with cancer and atrophy, to explore treatments and drug discoveries.

“We were very excited to see that we could not only robustly grow and amplify endometrial tissue in a dish, but that the tiny structures were also able to reproduce normal responses of the endometrium to hormones: estrogen makes the tissue thicken, progesterone then induces maturation including folding and subsequent removal of both hormones mimics the cell shedding of the menstrual period,” said Matteo Boretto, the first author on this study.

Researchers hope to one day be able to produce all parts of the uterus.

“Our new model provides several exciting perspectives,” said Hugo Vankelecom, the lead author on this study. “First, it allows the reliable and robust expansion of endometrial biopsies which usually are very small in size, thereby enabling extensive examination which was not possible before. Second, patient organoids will help us to understand malfunctions of the endometrium, which may lead to new and better treatments for uterine diseases and accompanying fertility problems. Simultaneously, the organoids will provide a platform to test the efficiency and toxicity of new drugs. For all these reasons, we also believe that companies will eventually be interested in our accomplishment."