A team of scientists in Cincinnati have grown 3D stomach tissue after bathing stem cells in a brew of growth-boosting chemicals.
Ulcers, stomach cancer, and other gastrointestinal diseases affect 10 percent of the world’s population, and their development is linked to chronic Helicobacter pylori infection. But because of the differences between people and lab animals such as mice and flies, existing live models aren’t ideal for studying human stomach development and disease.
To create a more realistic model, a team led by University of Cincinnati’s Yana Zavros and James Wells from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center started with human stem cells — specifically pluripotent stem cells, which have the potential to become many different kinds of cells in the body. After that, the key was to identify the steps involved in normal stomach formation during our embryonic development.
By guiding the stem cells through all these natural, sequential processes in a petri dish, the team coaxed the hPSCs toward becoming stomach tissue. The researchers focused on a pathway of interactions that acts as a switch between growing tissues in the intestine and in the antrum (the stomach’s outlet to the small intestine). When the cells were three days old, they added proteins to suppress this pathway.
Over the course of a month, these steps resulted in the formation of so-called human gastric organoids. These miniature stomachs are around 3mm in diameter, and their 3D structure contains different kinds of cell types with functional characteristics resembling those seen in our stomachs.