A team of scientists were able to grow human stomach tissue from pluripotent stem cells. The tissue is fully functional and could help researchers study gastrointestinal diseases, organ development, and new medications. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature.
Pluripotent stem cells are cells that are capable of growing into different kinds of tissue depending on the environment and chemical signals. Stem cells naturally occur in embryos but scientists can now produce them from skin cells and other mature cells. Although researchers have been able to grow different types of human tissue in the laboratory, stomach tissue has been a challenge. There is a lack of knowledge on embryonic stomach tissue development and scientists had been unable to grow human stomach tissue from stem cells. This has also made it more difficult to study gastrointestinal diseases such as gastric cancer.
Scientists from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center started their research by studying how stomach tissue develops in growing embryos. After extensive genomic screenings, the team determined that a genetic pathway called WNT/β-catenin helped control stomach tissue development in mice. The researchers then used the pathway to induce human pluripotent stem cells to grow into stomach tissue. The tissue is completely functional and capable of producing both stomach acid and the proper enzymes for digestion. An earlier scientific breakthrough last year allowed scientists to begin growing human intestinal tissue. Now researchers can study the full gastrointestinal system—in a petri dish. This may lead to the development of new treatments and medications for a wide range of stomach diseases, including Hirschsprung’s disease, stomach ulcers, and gastric cancer.
The team’s findings will make it much easier for researchers to study the human gastrointestinal tract. By studying stomach tissue generated from pluripotent stem cells, scientists can begin working on treatments for diseases such as gastric cancer, one of the most common types of cancer.
McCracken et al. Wnt/β-catenin promotes gastric fundus specification in mice and humans. Nature (2017).