There are a variety of serious intestinal diseases, including cancer and Crohn’s disease, that can result in a person needing large sections of their bowel to be surgically removed. In turn, this can lead to inadequate nutrient absorption and the need for intravenously delivered nutrition. Intestinal transplantation is an effective treatment for such patients, but like most organ transplants, demand greatly exceeds supply. To tackle the shortage, scientists are developing an alternative approach: growing human intestines in laboratories. The small bowel segment pictured, for example, was built using human stem cells induced to become intestinal epithelial cells (green) and vascular endothelial cells (red). These cells were then seeded onto a bowel scaffold – made from the structural matrix of a rat’s intestine. Such lab-built, human bowel sections have now been implanted into rats where they were shown to work like regular intestines – successfully transporting nutrients from the gut to the bloodstream.
Written by Ruth Williams
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