Researchers Engineer Functioning Murine Small Intestine

The small intestine, by its nature, is an excellent regenerative organ. This is a good thing, especially for premature newborns, as they have an increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Current treatments, which include surgical removal of the small intestine or an organ transplant, are risky for the infant or are only a short-term solution.

Dr. Tracy C. Grikscheit, a pediatric surgeon at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has successfully carried out a plan to harness the regenerative powers of the small intestine by creating functioning, tissue-engineered small intestine in laboratory mice.

What is unique about this engineered organ is that it is not merely an anatomically correct replica; this intestine contains every important cell type needed for functional intestines and all of the critical components of mature intestines, such as muscle, nerve, and epithelial cells, as well as some blood vessels.

Here’s how Dr. Grikscheit’s team built this functional organ:

Working in the laboratory, the research team took samples of intestinal tissue from mice. This tissue was comprised of the layers of the various cells that make up the intestine — including muscle cells and the cells that line the inside, known as epithelial cells. The investigators then transplanted that mixture of cells within the abdomen on biodegradable polymers or “scaffolding.”

What the team wanted to happen did — new, engineered small intestines grew and had all of the cell types found in native intestine.  Because the transplanted cells had carried a green label, the scientists could identify which cells had been provided — and all of the major components of the tissue-engineered intestine derived from the implanted cells.  Critically, the new organs contained the most essential components of the originals.

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