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Scientists grow mini-intestine in lab for nutrition research

If scientists can grow lab models of human intestines, far fewer animals would be needed for drug and disease research.

By Stephen Feller
An organiod a quarter of a millimeter across, above, exhibits functions of the human intestine which could help researchers understand how the organ works. Photo by Tamara Zietek/Technical University of Munich
An organiod a quarter of a millimeter across, above, exhibits functions of the human intestine which could help researchers understand how the organ works. Photo by Tamara Zietek/Technical University of Munich

MUNICH, Germany, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Scientists at Technical University of Munich grew mini-intestines that function exactly like full size intestines, which they said could allow for better drug and disease research and fewer experiments with animals.

The intestine is involved with the immune system and metabolism, as well as absorbing food, making the potential for research on hormone release and transport mechanisms in the digestive tract important. Future research could prove to be especially useful for obesity and diabetes, the scientists said.

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"The special thing about our scientific work on the intestinal organoid is that we can observe its inner workings," said Dr. Tamara Zietek, a scientist at Technical University of Munich, in a press release. "The mini-intestines exhibit all the essential functions of a real intestine."

Small pieces of mouse intestine containing stem cells were isolated and then put into a nutrient solution stimulating the stem cells to develop into an organ-like structure, according to a study on the research, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Over the course of a few days, a spherical organoid about a quarter of a millimeter across grew into a functional mini-intestine. The organoid could absorb drugs, release hormones after activation by nutrients, and transmit signals within intestinal cells to control the organ's function.

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Zietek said growing intestinal organoids from human cells could allow new disease and drug research to be more accurate because scientists can watch the organ's inner workings as they would happen inside a person. Using human models for lab research "drastically reduces the number of experimental animals needed," she said.

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