For the first time, researchers have grown esophageal tissues entirely from pluripotent stem cells, which are those that can become any other type of cell in the body. The feat was led by a team from the Cincinnati Children's Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM).
This approach has many intriguing consequences. It allows for the safe, detailed study of conditions related to our food channel in the lab, it provides model samples to test therapies and drugs on, and it might even lead to personalized tissues that can be implanted into a patient in need. This important result is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
The team was able to grow samples of esophageal tissue in about two months, with sizes ranging from 300 to 800 microns in length. The samples were compared to biopsy samples of gullets from patients, with both the bioengineered and the biopsy samples alike in composition, according to the team.
"Disorders of the esophagus and trachea are prevalent enough in people that organoid models of human esophagus could be greatly beneficial," lead investigator Dr Jim Wells, chief scientific officer at CuSTOM, said in a statement. "In addition to being a new model to study birth defects like esophageal atresia, the organoids can be used to study diseases like eosinophilic esophagitis and Barrett's metaplasia, or to bioengineer genetically matched esophageal tissue for individual patients."
The esophagus is the muscular tube linking the mouth to the stomach. Conditions that affect it might be congenital, forming during fetal development. There are also conditions that develop with age. Esophageal cancer is one example, but gastroesophageal reflux or achalasia can also reduce function and put a person's life at risk.
The team points out that all these conditions require better treatments, and to reach them, it is important that both the genetic and biochemical mechanisms at play in the esophagus are understood. This is why using these organoids could be a game changer. They are ideal human tissues that can be experimented on safely.
The team will continue to investigate these organoids and focus on ways to advance the technology. The researchers hope that the organoids will deliver on their therapeutic potential.