3D-Printed small intestines are helping researchers understand better the digestive system of humans. The experiment comes from Professor John March out of Cornell University. His team has built a device that was 3D printed that mimics the behavior of small intestines.
What ingredients would you need to recreate the organ that enables you to digest your salad? According to Prof. John March, biological and environmental engineering, a 3-D printer would suffice. Together with researchers from his lab, March used 3-D printing technology to create a microscopic artificial small intestine.
Unlike previous attempts, the Cornell device recreates the natural contraction and relaxation of muscles — peristalsis — in the small intestine. Without this fundamental feature, researchers have been unable to completely understand the biology that underlies the working of the organ. The 3-D printed device also simulates the structure and texture of cells along the intestine’s surface.
The model could be especially beneficial to those studying the connection between the immune system and the small intestine. Previous research studies have shown that so-called “gut” bacteria aid the immune system and the device could help simulate how intermittent flow in the intestine affects these bacteria.
“We expect it will be used to study interactions between humans and the bacteria that reside in the intestine. 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,” March said. “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.”
Because the device can be 3-D printed, March believes that teams all over the world will be able to engage in more in-depth research on the organ. According to the team, the model also allows researchers to fine-tune their experiments by allowing them to control cell types, nutrient profiles and gaseous exchange as well as providing an easy interface to log chemical information.
“The nice thing about 3-D printing is that if you can draw it, you can make it,” March said.