These organoid-like cells shed light on self-regulating gastrointestinal diseases.

The future of medicine is brighter than ever as stem cell technology is now looking to tackle gastrointestinal disease. By using this technology, scientists describe a device that will administer personal drug treatments to a person suffering from a gastrointestinal disease—such as Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease.

“This pairing of biology and engineering allows us to recreate an intestinal lining that matches that of a patient with a specific intestinal disease,” said Clive Svendsen, Director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Gastrointestinal Diseases

Some of the most common of gastrointestinal diseases:

  • Constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Cancer

Each gastrointestinal disease falls within one of two categories: functional gastrointestinal disorder and structural gastrointestinal disorder.

Two Common Disorder Types

Functional disorders are instances in which the gastrointestinal tract does not work properly but looks normal nonetheless. Examples of this are constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Alternatively, structural disorders are when the bowel does not work properly in spite of looking normal. Hemorrhoids and cancer are examples of these types of gastrointestinal diseases.

Generally, a gastrointestinal disease occurs due to:

  • An unbalanced lifestyle such as lack of exercise
  • Lack of fiber
  • Excessive travel
  • Stress
  • Consuming too much dairy
  • Certain medicines
  • Pregnancy

As of yet the only ways to cure a gastrointestinal disease have been either through an improved diet, use of antibiotics, and surgery. The latter of which has been conducted to either remove the problem or implant a device to help the body regulate the disease.

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Scientists have developed a device to help regulate a gastrointestinal disease which incorporates the use of induced pluripotent stem cells. Drawn from blood or skin cells, induced pluripotent stem cells are genetically reprogrammed into an embryonic stem cell-like state. Through this process, scientists now have a way of developing an unlimited source of human cells for therapeutic and healing purposes.

“We can produce an unlimited number of copies of this tissue and use them to evaluate potential therapies,” added Svedsen.

One of the first instances scientists successfully developed induced pluripotent stem cells was in 2007, by a team of faculty and doctors at Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. Since then scientists have used induced pluripotent stem cells technology to reprogram skin cells into blood cells, active motor neurons, sperm and egg precursors, bone precursors, and liver cells.

Emulate’s Intestine Chip

The device intended to personalize treatment so patients can better regulate their gastrointestinal disease is called Emulate’s Intestine Chip. It incorporates the use of induced pluripotent stem cells. In combination with microfluidic engineering, the induced pluripotent stem cells become human intestinal lining—also known as organoids.

The induced pluripotent stem cells derived organoids, by themselves, have drawbacks in that they develop in varying shape and size. The varied results not only prevent the production of consistent results, but cause the organoids to develop into tubes that are too hollow for drugs to be inserted—a vital step in order to test for the most effective drug for gastrointestinal disease treatment.

The intestine chip solves the “hollow tubes” issue. It allows fluids to pass through its specialized plastic engineered micro-channels. The device allows the induced pluripotent stem cells to successfully mimic the human intestine. Scientists can also obtain tissue samples from a patient’s intestinal lining through the chip, effectively eliminating the need to surgically retrieve it. Additionally, the chip gives researchers more control when studying how the cells interact with immune cells, blood cells, and drugs.

“This is an important advance in personalized medicine,” said Svedsen.

The development of the intestine chip is a huge step for the treatment of gastrointestinal disease, but its potential goes far beyond that.

“By creating a personalized patient-on-a-chip we can really begin to understand how diseases, medicines, chemicals, and foods affected an individual’s health,” said Geraldine Hamilton, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate, Inc.