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Managing Editor  | October 2017

3-D printing leads to improvement in study of intestinal biology

The medical community has seen a number of benefits from the improvement in 3-D printing technology and a recent study at Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.), as well as John Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.), the University of Maryland (College Park), and the University of Singapore (NUS), has turned its focus to intestinal biology.



The top image shows cells dying off (light blue) along the tips of intestinal villi; the bottom frame shows that when such flow is missing, cells all along villi become self-destroying. 
(Cait M. Costello)


According to a report from Cornell, “Researchers have used 3-D printing technology to create a microscale artificial small intestine that realistically mimics the gut surface topography (texture and structure) and fluid flow that epithelial (gut surface) cells require to grow, reproduce and function properly. The artificial intestine re-creates peristaltic fluid flow, which other models have failed to achieve.”


By using 3-D printing technology to recreate the intestine, researchers have created a process that can be replicated and customized by other scientists to meet the specific needs of the research being conducted.


The 3-D printed system enables scientists to understand how fluid flow works in the intestinal system.


“The study showed that recreating peristaltic flow in the model allowed cells to grow as they would in a living intestine,” the article continued. “Proper flow encourages cells to die off selectively along the tips of intestinal villi.


“When such flow is missing, cells all along villi become self-destroying. Also, accurate fluid flow lets researchers study dynamics of bacterial populations in the intestines, as some bacteria are better able to deal with flow than others.”


The research was recently published by Scientific Reports. The abstract stated:


“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. Synthetic in vitro models can control specific parameters, including (but not limited to) cell types, fluid flow, nutrient profiles and gaseous exchange.


“They are also ‘open’ systems, enabling access to chemical and physiological information. In this work, we demonstrate the importance of gut surface topography and fluid flow dynamics which are shown to impact epithelial cell growth, proliferation and intestinal cell function.


“We have constructed a small intestinal bioreactor using 3-D printing and polymeric scaffolds that mimic the 3-D topography of the intestine and its fluid flow. Our results indicate that TEER measurements, which are typically high in static 2-D Transwell apparatuses, is lower in the presence of liquid sheer and 3-D topography compared to a flat scaffold and static conditions.


“There was also increased cell proliferation and discovered localized regions of elevated apoptosis, specifically at the tips of the villi, where there is highest sheer. Similarly, glucose was actively transported (as opposed to passive) and at higher rates under flow.”

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