Scientists have revealed they have successfully used pluripotent stem cells to grow human embryonic colons in a lab as part of efforts to study diseases of the colon.
The embryonic colons, which function much like natural human tissue when transplanted in mice, will allow scientists to study illnesses like IBS and cancers of the colon in unprecedented detail.
The study, carried out by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, is believed to be the first time human colon organs have been successfully tissue engineered in this manner.
James Wells, senior study investigator and director of the Cincinnati Children’s Pluripotent Stem Cell Center, said the finding has the added potential to one day generate human gastrointestinal (GI) tract tissue for transplant into patients.
Researchers in Dr Wells’ laboratory used human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) to grow embryonic-stage small intestines, complete with a functioning nervous system.
They also managed to recreate the antrum and fundus regions of the human stomach – or the top and bottom areas of the organ.
Dr Wells said: “Diseases affecting this region of the GI tract are quite prevalent and include ailments like colitis, colon cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Hirschsprung’s disease and polyposis syndromes.
“We’ve been limited in how we can study these diseases, including the fact that animal models like mice don’t precisely recreate human disease processes in the gastrointestinal tract.
“This system allows us to very effectively model human diseases and human development.”
Lab-grown “organs” are essentially just lumps of cells which resemble the real deal in many ways, but lack certain features that allow real organs to function and grow – namely a system of blood vessels that nourish internal tissues.
All organoids begin as stem cells, grown in precise culture conditions that make them differentiate into multiple cell types that self-organise and cooperate.
However, the source of the stem cells…