In a recent study, researchers examined how a disease develops by using human organ-on-a-chip technology
The study is led by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin.
They were able to shed light on a part of the human body—the digestive system—where many questions remain unanswered.
Using their “gut inflammation-on-a-chip” microphysiological system, the research team confirmed that intestinal barrier disruption is the onset initiator of gut inflammation.
The study also includes evidence that casts doubt on the conventional wisdom of taking probiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria considered good for gut health and found in supplements and foods such as yogurt—on a regular basis.
According to the findings, the benefits of probiotics depend on the vitality of one’s intestinal epithelium, or the gut barrier.
It is a delicate single-cell layer that protects the rest of the body from other potentially harmful bacteria found in the human gut.
Until now, organs-on-chips are solely served as accurate models of organ functionality in a controlled environment.
They are microchips lined by living human cells to model various organs from the heart and lungs to the kidneys and bone marrow.
This study is the first time that a diseased organ-on-a-chip has been developed and used to show how a disease develops in the human body—in this case, the researchers examined gut inflammation.
The team found that once the gut barrier has been damaged, probiotics can be harmful just like any other bacteria that escape into the human body through a damaged intestinal barrier.
When the gut barrier is healthy, probiotics are beneficial. When it is compromised, however, they can cause more harm than good. Essentially, ‘good fences make good neighbors.’
The team will develop more customized human intestinal disease models such as for inflammatory bowel disease or colorectal cancer.
The aim is to identify how the gut microbiome controls inflammation, cancer metastasis and the efficacy of cancer immunotherapy.
The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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