Mini stomachs grown in lab

Clumps of gastric cells could help researchers study disease

human stomach tissue (marked with glowing green tags)

LAB-GROWN BELLY  Human stomach tissue (marked with glowing green tags) grown in a dish contains mucus-making cells (red), just like real stomachs do. The mini organs could help scientists study human gastric disease.

Kyle McCracken

Itty-bitty seeds of human stomachs can now bud in plastic dishes.

By bathing stem cells in a brew of growth-boosting chemicals, scientists have kick-started the construction of crude organs about as big as the head of a pin. These primitive balls of gastric tissue — the first to be cooked up in the lab — resemble the stomachs of developing fetuses. The lab-grown bellies represent the latest in a line of do-it-yourself organlike cell clumps, including livers, brains and guts (SN: 12/28/13, p. 20).

Three years after figuring out how to transform stem cells into human intestinal tissue, and more recently, how to make that tissue grow in mice (SN Online: 10/19/14), developmental biologist James Wells of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center  and colleagues have monkeyed with their method to make 3-D stomachlike organs.

Like human stomachs, the lab-grown globs contain both mucus-making and hormone-pumping cells. The tissue also mimics a stomach’s response to infection with Helicobacter pylori. The ulcer-causing bacteria cue the globs to switch on the same molecular signals that real stomach cells use, Wells and his team report October 29 in Nature.

The mini stomachs hand researchers a new tool for studying gastric human disease, including cancer, the researchers suggest.

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