Scientists Successfully Grow Human Esophagus Inside Laboratory
Scientists working to bio-engineer the entire human gastrointestinal system in a laboratory has reportedly successfully used pluripotent stem cells to grow human esophageal organoids in the lab.

Published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, the study is the latest advancement from researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM). The center is developing new ways to study birth defects and diseases that affect millions of people with gastrointestinal disorders, such as gastric reflux, cancer, etc. The work is leading to new personalized diagnostic methods and focused in part on developing regenerative tissue therapies to treat or cure GI disorders.

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The newly-published research is the first time scientists have been able to grow human esophageal tissue entirely from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), which can form any tissue type in the body, according to the authors. Cincinnati Children’s scientists and their multi-institutional collaborators already have used PSCs to bio-engineer human intestine, stomach, colon and liver.

“Disorders of the esophagus and trachea are prevalent enough in people that organoid models of human esophagus could be greatly beneficial,” said Jim Wells, PhD, chief scientific officer at CuSTOM and study lead investigator.

“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 bio-engineer genetically matched esophageal tissue for individual patients,” he added.

After successfully generating fully formed human esophageal organoids — which grew to a length of about 300-800 micrometers in about two months — the bio-engineered tissues were compared biochemically to esophageal tissues from patient biopsies. Those tests showed the bio-engineered and biopsies tissues were strikingly similar in composition, according to the authors.

The research team is continuing its studies into the bio-engineering process for esophageal organoids and identifying future projects to advance the technology’s eventual therapeutic potential, according to Wells. This includes using the organoids to examine the progression of specific diseases and congenital defects affecting the esophagus.