Our bodies contain roughly 200 types of cell, each of which carries out a specific function. Pluripotent stem cells are capable of becoming any of these hundreds of different kinds of cell.
Now, in a major breakthrough, scientists at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center have succeeded in using pluripotent stem cells to grow a miniature version of a part of the stomach, called gastric organoids.
Gastric diseases, including peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer, affect 10% of the world’s population and are largely due to chronic Helicobacter pylori infection. Species differences between the phases of embryonic development and the architecture of the adult stomach mean that animal models are less than optimal for studying human stomach organogenesis and pathogenesis, so up to now no acceptable experimental model of normal human gastric mucosa has been available: a massive obstruction to developing cures for gastric diseases.
This is why this new technique potentially opens the door to dramatic improvements in research into the development phases and diseases of an organ central to numerous major public health problems ranging from diabetes to cancer.
The key to creating this miniature stomach was to identify the steps involved in normal stomach formation during embryonic development in the womb. The scientific team followed these steps by manipulating and simulating the normal processes in a petri dish, coaxing pluripotent stem cells towards forming a reduced fragment of stomach tissue. Over the course of a month, this procedure resulted in the formation of 3D human gastric organoids roughly 3mm in diameter.
Jim Wells, PhD, a leading protagonist in this breakthrough, has explained that this unprecedented molecular generation of 3D human gastric organoids presents major new opportunities for drug discovery, making it possible to model early stages of stomach cancer, for example, and to study some of the basic processes causing obesity related diabetes.
The tissue may even be used as a treatment in its own right, since within about 5 years it should be possible to create “patches” of tissue which can be used to repair ulcers and other stomach damage, added Wells. This is also the first time researchers have succeeded in producing 3D human embryonic foregut, potentially a promising starting point for generating other foregut organ tissues like the lungs and pancreas, he said.
Wells emphasized the importance of basic research for the eventual success of this project, adding that "This milestone would not have been possible if it hadn't been for previous studies from many other basic researchers on understanding embryonic organ development."