A pulsating gut on a chip

A coin-sized device created by a team at Harvard University mimics the structure and physiology of the human intestine by supporting gut microbes and imitating the organ’s rhythmic motion.

Donald Ingber and his colleagues at the Wyss Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, built the chip (pictured) out of a clear polymer. It contains two microscopic fluid channels separated by a porous, flexible membrane. Human gut epithelial cells, which line the gut’s surface, cover the membrane and supported the growth of a common gut bacterium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus. The researchers simulated gut contractions, or peristalsis, by applying suction through two side chambers. In response, the epithelial cells formed folds similar to the finger-like protrusions, or villi, that line the inner intestinal wall.

The gut tissue layer blocked the flow of small molecules between the channels, and this barrier function improved with the presence of the bacteria. The authors say that their device is a better intestinal mimic than cells in static culture and suggest that it could be used for drug screening and toxicity tests.



Nature 483, 376 (22 March 2012) doi:10.1038/483376a

Lab Chip 10.1039/C2LC40074J (2012)