For the first time ever, scientists have grown small functioning human stomachs in the laboratory.
The stomachs were grown by making use of adult stem cells to grow tissue fragments that replicate the stomach cells’ functions.
This will give scientists the opportunity to determine the exact working of the stomach and provide new treatment methods for illnesses, such as gastric cancer and ulcers, which affect around 10% of the global population.
Researchers will also be offered the opportunity to determine how obesity-fuelled diabetes develops.
Previously, research had to be done on mouse models of the stomach, which was not ideal for human disease.
Scientists made use of pluripotent stem cells to create the organoids. These cells are able to mimic any type of cell within the body. They are 3-D organ ‘buds’ which can potentially develop tissues with specific functions. One of the main elements of the research was the identification of the natural steps of stomach formation during the embryonic development process. The simulation of these processes in a petri dish, allowed the scientists to push the stem cells into a path which transformed them into hollow ‘spheroids’ similar to a stomach.
The researchers infected the stomach tissue with H. Pylori, which resulted in biochemical changes taking place within 24 hours. The organoids mimicked the first stages of gastric disease which was trigged by the bacteria. This included the activation of a cancer gene, c-Met.
The lead research scientist, Dr James Wells, from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre in the US, said this is an important breakthrough as it allows them to study the early stages of peptic ulcers or stomach cancer, which will allow them to identify therapeutic methods to prevent this type of disease.
He said that there has not been an efficient method to study stomach disease in humans, as the human stomach varies greatly from the animal stomach.
He added that the arrangement and structure of the stomach tissues in the dish in the lab were almost identical to what can be found in a human stomach. He said this offers them the opportunity to generate tissue to allow for filling of holes in the stomach, caused by the disease.
Stem cell scientists have previously had success in generating organoids which mimicked the intestine, and brain organoids which contained nerve tissue.
Image Credit: Ian Brown