Mini-intestines that are cultured from a single stem cell can restore damaged mouse intestines. This has been demonstrated by Professor Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute, affiliated to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), in collaboration with colleagues from Tokyo. This is the first time that intestinal stem cells have been used in treatment.
Stem cell researchers in Utrecht and Japan have successfully treated mice with intestinal damage by using cultured intestinal tissue. Mice with artificially-created intestinal tumors were administered mini-intestines’. This is intestinal tissue that is cultured from individual stem cells that contain all parts of the intestinal wall.
New intestinal tissue regenerates itself
After four weeks it was clear that the transplanted intestinal tissue had restored the damage. The transplanted tissue had attached itself to the intestinal wall and could not be differentiated from normal tissue – the stem cells had been adapted so that they lit up under a microscope. The new intestinal tissue had formed sections of working intestine that was able to absorb food and regenerate itself. After the procedure, the mice started to gain weight. The new intestinal tissue was still functioning normally six months following transplantation. Clevers and colleagues have described their results in the journal Nature published on March 11, 2012.
The study is an important step towards bringing regenerative medicine from the laboratory to the patient. Together with pediatric immunologist Professor Edward Nieuwenhuis of UMC Utrecht and with support from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, Clevers has developed a treatment for children who have a rare chronic intestinal condition such as microvillus inclusion disease. In this condition, the inside of the intestines does not work properly meaning that nutrients cannot be absorbed. At present, the only treatment for the condition is the high-risk intestinal transplantation procedure.
In time Clevers and Nieuwenhuis hope to be able to offer these patients the new treatment option of intestinal transplantation using tissue cultured from stem cells. “What we have done in mice should, in principle, be possible in humans,” Clevers says. “The Hubrecht Institute and UMC Utrecht are working very hard to achieve this.”
The study is collaboration between the research groups of Mamoru Watanabe at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University and the Dutch Hubrecht Institute. At the Hubrecht Institute, researchers have isolated a few stem cells from mice and grown them in culture into millions of intestinal cells. The intestinal tissue is frozen and then transported to Tokyo. There the researchers thawed the intestinal tissue and transplanted it into mice.
The Hubrecht Institute is a research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and is affiliated to University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht.