To fight nasty digestive bugs, scientists set out to build a better gut — using stem cells

New $6.4M federal grant support will fuel the development of 'guts in a dish' to study interaction between cells & microbes in both health and disease

IMAGE:These HIO structures, each about the size of a BB and grown from stem cells, allow scientists to study the interaction between the cells of the gut lining and microbes... view more

Credit: University of Michigan Medical School

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If you got hit with any of the 'intestinal bugs' that went around this winter, you've felt the effects of infectious microbes on your digestive system.

But scientists don't fully understand what's going on in gut infections like that - or in far more serious ones that can kill. Many mysteries remain in the complex interaction between our own cells, the helpful bacteria that live inside us, and tiny invaders.

Now, a team of University of Michigan scientists will tackle that issue in a new way. Using human stem cells, they'll grow tiny "guts in a dish" in the laboratory and study how disease-causing bacteria and viruses affect the microbial ecosystem in our guts. The approach could lead to new treatments, and aid research on a wide range of diseases.

This work was started as part of the U-M Medical School's self-funded Host Microbiome Initiative and Center for Organogenesis, and the U-M Center for Gastrointestinal Research, funded by the National Institutes of Health. It also received funding from the U-M's MCubed initiative for interdisciplinary work.

Now, the project has received a $6.4 million boost with a new five-year NIH grant.

It will allow the U-M team to expand their effort to grow human intestinal organoids, or HIOs - tiny hollow spheres of cells into which they can inject a mix of bacteria. They'll work with researchers at other institutions, as part of the Novel, Alternative Model Systems for Enteric Diseases, or NAMSED, initiative sponsored by the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Balls of cells become mini-guts

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To fight nasty digestive bugs, scientists set out to build a better gut -- using stem cells

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