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Scientists Have Grown Acid-Producing Advanced Mini-Stomachs in the Lab

Bringing us one step closer to growing full-sized organs.

Scientists Have Grown Acid-Producing Advanced Mini-Stomachs in the Lab
The close-up of the organoid inside of a mouse. Cincinnati Children's Hospital

With the increasing global demand for organ transplantation and not enough supplies,  scientists have been working on growing full-sized, functioning organs in the name of regenerative medicine for some time now. These "organoids" are tiny, three-dimensional organs that are grown from stem cells that often resemble and work as their real counterparts.

So far, we've seen scientists 3D print organoids and create miniature livers using human skin cells, in addition to other examples. 

Now, a new study published in the journal Cell Stem Cell reveals that scientists from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have created the most advanced mini-stomachs so far that can contract and produce acid.

How does the mini-stomach work? 

Starting with human pluripotent stem cells, the team used three types of cells to grant the new, advanced mini-stomachs new abilities closer to regular stomachs, such as producing acid. The team then turned the stem cells into three primary germ layers needed for normal stomach development – enteric neuroglial, mesenchymal, and epithelial precursors.

In the press release, Alexandra Eicher, lead author of the study said, “We started with cells from the three primary germ layers–enteric neuroglial, mesenchymal, and epithelial precursors–all separately derived from PSCs,” and added, “From these, we generated stomach tissue that contained acid-producing glands, surrounded by layers of smooth muscle containing functional enteric neurons that controlled contractions of the engineered antral stomach tissue.”

The mini-stomachs were then transplanted into mice to further advance their growing process. The team then discovered that the organoids grew a thousand times larger in mice than they usually do in cell culture. They even developed other features that had been lacking, such as a Brunner’s gland.

The corresponding author of the study, James Wells, Ph.D., added that “This advance in tissue engineering is important because we can now assemble complex organ tissues from separately derived components, similar to an assembly line approach,” about the study. 

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While there's still so much work that remains in order to create organoid tissue that would be fully suitable for transplantation, this new study reaches a brand new horizon.

“Members of this team, with a recent grant awarded from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, are now working to scale up production of therapeutic quality organoid tissues with the goal of transplantation into patients by the end of the decade,” Wells says.

If lab-grown mini-organs keep advancing at this pace, they could be the key to opening up new ways to model biology, diseases, and new treatments for scientists around the globe.

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