Cincinnati researchers have created functioning human intestinal tissue in the laboratory from pluripotent stem cells in a first-of-its-kind research effort.
The researchers said that their findings will open the door to unprecedented studies of human intestinal development, function and disease.
The process is also a significant step toward generating intestinal tissue for transplantation, they said.
"This is the first study to demonstrate that human pluripotent stem cells in a petri dish can be instructed to efficiently form human tissue with three-dimensional architecture and cellular composition remarkably similar to intestinal tissue," said James Wells, senior investigator on the study.
"The hope is that our ability to turn stem cells into intestinal tissue will eventually be therapeutically beneficial for people with diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease and short bowel syndromes," he added.
In the study, scientists used two types of pluripotent cells: human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).
To turn pluripotent stem cells into intestinal tissue, scientists performed a timed series of cell manipulations using chemicals and proteins called growth factors to mimic embryonic intestinal development in the laboratory.
The first step turned pluripotent stem cells into an embryonic cell type called definitive endoderm, which gives rise to the lining of the esophagus, stomach and intestines as well as the lungs, pancreas and liver.
Next, endoderm cells were instructed to become one those organ cell types, specifically embryonic intestinal cells called a 'hindgut progenitors'.
The researchers then subjected the cells to what they describe as a "pro-intestinal" cell culture system that promoted intestinal growth.
Within 28 days, it resulted in the formation of three-dimensional tissue resembling fetal intestine that contained all the major intestinal cell types - including enterocytes, goblet, Paneth and enteroendocrine cells.
The tissue continued to mature and acquire both the absorptive and secretory functionality of normal human intestinal tissues and also formed intestine-specific stem cells.
The research was reported in Nature.