Two groups are working to make studies of the gut easier by creating "gut-on-a-chip" devices that mimic the human gut, reports New Scientist's Jessica Hamzelou. These devices could provide researchers with a new way to explore digestive disorders, and to test drugs. One device, created by Donald Ingber and his team at Harvard University's Wyss Institute, is made of silicon layers fitted together to form three parallel channels, with a membrane seeded with human intestinal cells in the middle, Hamzelou says. The team recreated peristalsis by setting up a vacuum in the outer two channels, "replicating the pulsations" of digestion, she adds. The team also added a variety of human gut bacteria.
At Cornell University, John March and his team are working on another way to model the human gut. "The group made miniature collagen scaffolds in the shape of these villi [that line the gut] then seeded them with intestinal cells," Hamzelou says. This 3D model absorbs drugs more like the actual human gut than cells in a Petri dish, she adds. March says he'd like to try combining his device with Ingber's to see if they might improve one another.