Gut-on-a-Chip Could Hold the Key to Treating IBD

thumbnail photo of Dr Hyun Jung Kim

Dr. Hyun Jung Kim has received funding to start up his Gut-on-a-Chip research, which simulates the microenvironment of a living human intestine. The goal of this research is to demonstrate chemically induced intestinal inflammation. Then, he and his team will test potential therapeutics to reduce the inflammation.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic intestinal inflammatory disease; the chief types of IBD are Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD affects roughly 1.6 million people in the United States.

In the past, animal models, such as mice models, have been used to understand the disease and test therapeutics. However, animal models are time, resource and labor intensive, and ethically problematic. Moreover, they do not accurately predict human physiology.

Kim's development of a new model using human cells in a spatially defined microenvironment with mechanical dynamics that mimic the actual intestine is innovative and will ultimately lead to more effective therapeutic approaches.

The new model can offer a variety of experimental versatility in terms of the host-microbe ecosystem to understand the role of commensal gut microbes in gastrointestinal diseases as well as the modulation of immune system. Also, the mini-gut microsystem can provide different levels of biological complexity on-demand. For example, researchers will easily be able to add and subtract gut bacteria and/or immune cells. The ability to independently control elements of the model will help determine how these factors impact the gut.

close up of hand holding small elastic chip

Kim's Gut-on-a-Chip is made from elastic, crystal clear silicone rubber. He and his team used a soft lithography method to leverage the computer microchip technology to generate the micro-patterned device. Microchannels inside the device are separated by an extracellular matrix-coated, flexible porous membrane. (Photo courtesy of Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering)

Kim's program will demonstrate how the microengineered human intestine reproduces the chemically induced inflammation, and then it will test therapeutics, such as the treatment of probiotic bacteria.

Kim and his team also plan to develop an advanced gastrointestinal (GI) model to better understand a more complex community of gut microbes, progression of GI diseases, and define new therapeutic targets.