Summer 2017

Gut Check

How Tufts researchers are using tissue engineering to target enteric diseases. 

By Monica Jimenez

Across the world, diarrheal diseases are important causes of morbidity and mortality. Now, with grants totaling $8 million, a team from the School of Engineering, the School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center can better address this pressing public health issue. The five years of funding from the National Institutes of Health—together with $120,000 per year in combined support from the engineering and medical schools—has led to the opening of the Center for Enteric Diseases in Engineered Tissues (CEDET).

At the center, researchers will use tissue engineering to grow sections of human intestine and then infect them with pathogens. These scaffolds have complex cell populations and microvilli, and produce mucus and digestive enzymes, just like intestines that grow in the body, said biomedical engineering professor and chairman David Kaplan, CEDET associate director. “Over the years we’ve been trying to develop improved tools to grow all kinds of tissues to study disease and tissue development, damage and repair,” said Kaplan, whose team created the scaffolds and tissues. Essential to the work has been Dr. Jatin Roper, director of the Center for Hereditary Gastrointestinal Cancer at Tufts Medical Center, who seeds the scaffolds with intestinal stem cells isolated from patients.

3D sponge scaffolds prepared from silk protein for the intestinal tissues. Photo: photo: Ying Chen

Microbiology professor Ralph Isberg, CEDET director, said medical school faculty—Carol Kumamoto, Linc Sonenshein, Joan Mecsas, Wai-Leung Ng and Honorine Ward—will research several clinically important pathogens. One is the potentially deadly C. difficile, which is sensitive to oxygen and so difficult to study. “We found that by using these engineered scaffolding tissues, we could actually get low-oxygen conditions,” Isberg said. “We’re hoping to uncover things we couldn’t otherwise.” (Read about related work on page 8.)

The center has already bioengineered tissues measuring 10 millimeters in diameter, and researchers plan to create hundreds of larger tissues to study everything from metabolism to cancer—even to screen drugs. “This is the kind of work where you must have a team of scientists to do it well,” Kaplan said. “The synergies are much greater than the sum of the parts.”
—Monica Jimenez

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Gut Check

How Tufts researchers are using tissue engineering to target enteric diseases.