22 November 2018

Better embryos via oviduct-on-a-chip technology

Fertilized embryos developed in an oviduct-on-a-chip resemble embryos produced in the natural situation, whereas embryos produced by conventional in vitro fertilization (IVF) differ markedly from both. That is the conclusion of Bart Gadella from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and colleagues in an article in Nature Communications. IVF is a commonly used technique for treating infertility and producing embryos in both human patients and in animal breeding. In the natural situation, fertilization takes place in the oviduct, this is more efficient than IVF and yields embryos with better characteristics for the production of offspring.

Using 3-D perfused cell-culture technology, a 3-D cattle oviduct-on-a-chip culture system was developed in which an ‘oviduct’ was established on a porous membrane. In this way, the blood circulation can be mimicked by passing fluid through the chamber under the membrane, allowing simulation of the hormonal changes that take place just before a normal ovulation. In the chamber above the oviduct on a membrane, spermatozoa and eggs can be introduced and activated to yield a more natural fertilization proces

Oviduct-on-a-chip is more comparable with the normal situation

Researcher Marcia Ferraz compared early embryos that developed in the artificial oviduct with embryos produced either in an IVF system or recovered from the oviduct of cows. As early as the first cell division, DNA demethylation, a process that can alter gene expression during subsequent embryo development, had taken place in embryos produced in the oviduct-on-a-chip. These changes followed a similar pattern to that seen in naturally produced embryos, whereas the process differed markedly in embryos produced in a standard IVF system.

Fertilization in the oviduct is more efficient and yields embryos with characteristics more suited to the production of offspring
Bart Gadella
Bart Gadella

More efficient and better quality

“The differences may explain why implantation of IVF embryos is relatively inefficient” explains Gadella. “The current systems for IVF ignore factors that are involved in the natural fertilization process in mammals. Fertilization takes place in the oviduct, and is more efficient and yields embryos with characteristics more compatible with the production of offspring”.

A colleague of Gadella’s, Heiko Henning is working on a horse oviduct-on-a-chip. Conventional IVF doesn’t work in horses, and it is possible that the oviduct-on-a-chip will offer a solution.

This research is performed by the Fertility and Reproduction research group at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The development of the oviduct-on-a-chip technology was facilitated by collaboration with MESA+ at the University of Twente (Severine le Gac), and with the University of Bonn (Michael Hölker).