To this end, we develop in close collaboration with bio-engineers and material specialists from the UMC Utrecht (Biofabrication unit) and the University of Twente (AMBER group), new models that combine 3D printing, microfluidic and cell culture techniques to resemble the essential morphological and physiological functionalities of an oviduct or uterus in a simplified and miniaturised on-chip format. The most recent result from this collaboration is a bovine oviduct-on-a chip device.
Interaction of oocytes, sperm and embryos
We use this and other models as tools for gaining detailed insight how the oocytes, sperm and embryos interact with the female genital tract and trigger reciprocal responses in terms of gene and protein expression (gamete-maternal & embryo-maternal cross talk). The research topics in which we apply our microfluidic models range from studying the impact of assisted reproduction techniques on epigenetic reprogramming and health of embryos, to toxicologic screening assays and investigations on maternal metabolic stress/disorders on the micro-environment of the early embryo. Our analyses focus on the secretome of the epithelial cells, with special emphasis on the secreted proteins and extracellular vesicles with their cargo. The research is facilitated by own core facilities for mass spectrometric analysis of lipids and research on extracellular vesicles.
Besides studying physiological processes around we strive to use especially equine oviduct-on-a-chip systems to enable classical in vitro fertilisation and improve embryo development after ICSI. Future research is directed towards the establishing an uterus-on-a-chip to study the pre-implantation period.