Oct 31, 2017 | By Benedict

Biologists at Cornell University in New York have 3D printed a microscopic artificial small intestine. The synthetic gut could help researchers better understand bacteria and the human immune system.

A 3D printed small intestine developed at Cornell could help immune system research

A 3D printed small intestine might sound like one of the weirder entries on our list of 3D printable Halloween props—an eerily realistic “trick” sure to win you some candy from frightened families.

But it’s actually being used by a group of Cornell University biologists to study the human immune system and the effect of bacteria on the gut.

Using AutoCAD Inventor, a Stratasys Objet30 Pro 3D printer, and Stratasys VeroClear RGD810 3D printing material, the researchers were able to fabricate a synthetic “small intestine” bioreactor that accurately mimics the function of the human gut.

“The development of in vitro artificial small intestines that realistically mimic in vivo systems will enable vast improvement of our understanding of the human gut and its impact on human health,” the researchers say.

The 3D printed microscale small intestine mimics the surface topography of the human gut, as well as the fluid flow that epithelial cells need to grow, reproduce, and function. According to the Cornell biologists, previous intestinal models have failed to accurately recreate fluid flow.

“The intestine is home to most of our immune system and it is also where all of our nutrients are absorbed, so to function as a human being or any multicellular animal, our gut is the centerpiece of our interactions with the outside world,” explained John March, professor and chair of the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell.

The new 3D printed intestinal system allows researchers to closely examine fluid flow in the intestine, and studies carried out on the 3D printed gut showed that recreating peristaltic flow in the model allowed cells to grow as they would in a living intestine.

The 3D printed gut (left) encouraged mucus growth and produced healthier cells

March added that “the more we understand about how our guts work, the more we can develop therapies and gain insights into the evolution of human biology.”

The accurate flow system of the 3D printed model has a number of important advantages. For one, it encourages cells to die off selectively along the tips of intestinal villi, which sounds bad, but actually ensures that too many cells don’t start destroying themselves all along the villi.

The clever fluid system also allows the researchers to study the dynamics of bacterial populations in the intestines, with some bacteria handling flow better than others.

“We expect [the 3D printed gut] will be used to study interactions between humans and the bacteria that reside in the intestine,” March said. “The salient feature is that this device provides flow similar to that found in the intestine to study the effects of fluid dynamics on bacterial colonization. Also it can be used to better understand how human cells grow and differentiate under shear forces that are applied by food and fluids moving in the intestine.”

3D printing proved particularly useful for the Cornell scientists because it enabled them to precisely control cell types, nutrient profiles, and gaseous exchange. And luckily for other intestinal enthusiasts around the world, March and his team aren’t going be particularly precious about their 3D printed model: they fully expect other biologists to try 3D printing their own intestinal models to learn more about how the immune system works.

“The nice thing about 3D printing is that if you can draw it, you can make it,” March added.

The research paper, “Microscale Bioreactors for in situ characterization of GI epithelial cell physiology,” has been published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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