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Scientists' realistic lab-grown gut tissue thrives in mice

The material could help patients with bowel diseases.
Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
November 22, 2016
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A team of scientists have not only created gut tissue that's so close to the real thing, they've also successfully grafted it into mice for the first time. The team converted ordinary skin and white blood cells into pluripotent stem cells, which have the capability to transform into any type of cell. By providing the right nutrients, they were able to induce the stem cells to turn into basic intestinal tissues. But they didn't stop there -- they also created nerves that gave the tissue the ability to pulsate, which is what moves food through our gastrointestinal tract.

Jim Wells, one of the researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, said:

"I feel this is one of the most complex tissues to have been engineered. It has the inner lining that does all the absorption of nutrients and secretion of digestive juices, fully functional muscles that propel the food through the gut, and nerves that control the pulsed muscle movement."

To test if their creation works, they grafted small patches of it into the kidneys of live mice. They found that the tissue survived just fine inside the animals, and the mice's body even supplied it with blood and immune cells, even if the scientists didn't create a blood supply for the tissue. If the same thing happens inside the human body, then doctors can use the material for patients who need it.

At this point in the time, the researchers are testing two-centimeter tubes made with the material. However, they're thinking of extending the tubes to 10 centimeters, so they can be used to extend the gastrointestinal tracts of babies with short bowel syndrome. Adults would need longer tubes than that, so it might take much longer to develop transplants for full-grown humans. The team also believes the material can help them look into inflammatory bowel and Crohn's diseases more closely and figure out how to help people with those conditions.

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