Scientists looking to understand human stomach diseases can now use an artificially grown tissue designed to recreate the normal processes of the organ such as producing acids and other digestive enzymes.
In a study featured in the journal Nature, researchers from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center were able to grow human tissues in a laboratory using samples taken from the corpus/fundus region of the stomach.
The breakthrough comes two years after the group successfully cultivated another part of the stomach known as the antrum, which produces hormones for the organ.
With these two developments combined, the researchers are now capable of growing both parts of the stomach artificially to help fellow scientists understand various human diseases and develop better forms of treatment.
Growing Human Organs Using Stem Cells
The development of the tissue-engineered stomach is part of a series of experiments involving James M. Wells, head of Cincinnati Children's Pluripotent Stem Cell Facility.
Wells has been leading research work since 2010 to look into the possibility of using human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) to artificially grow different parts of the stomach and intestines. Their goal is to use tissues made from hPSC to help them find the causes of gastrointestinal diseases, and develop treatment for them.
Wells's team focused on understanding how human organs are formed during the development of embryos. Some of the organs they were interested in were the esophagus, pancreas, stomach, and intestines.
The researchers believe studying these organs can help them develop new cures for genetic forms of illnesses such as Hirschsprung's disease and monogenic diabetes.
At first, Wells and his colleagues had a difficult time carrying out their study because there wasn't enough information available regarding how the human stomach is formed during the embryonic development. They had to make use of laboratory mice to understand the genetics behind the process.
This allowed the researchers to identify a genetic pathway known as WNT/β-catenin responsible for directing the formation of the stomach's corpus/fundus region in the mice.
They then manipulated this pathway in a petri dish so that they could jumpstart the development of fundus organoids using human pluripotent stem cells.
The researchers were able to refine the process through later experiments, allowing them to identify other signaling pathways linked to the development of important cell types of the fundus.
The team said that it would take about six weeks for hPSC to grow gastric-fundus tissues in a laboratory.
Uses For The Tissue-Engineered Human Stomach
According to the researchers, they plan to use the artificially grown stomach organoids to better understand human gastric illnesses.
Wells is already looking to team up with fellow researcher Yana Zavros, from the University of Cincinnati, to discover how the organoids would respond after being exposed to the bacteria Helicobacter pylori.
H. pylori has been linked to the development of ulcers in the stomach and intestines, as well as increasing a person's risk for stomach cancer.
The researchers can also use the stomach organoids in conjunction with organoids from the intestines to explore how the body is able to regulate its nutrient intake and control digestion. They can also be used to develop treatments for various conditions related to the digestive system.