Congenital disorders of the digestive tract, while rare, are serious conditions that most often require surgical intervention. In recent years, with advances in tissue engineering scientists have begun to develop systems to grow parts of the GI tract under laboratory conditions. The main goal of which is to have tissue-engineered colons (TECs) potentially replace absent or injured pieces of the intestinal tract. However, little attention has been given to a key component of the GI tract, the enteric nervous system, for TECs.
Now, researchers at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) have shown that tissue-engineered colons derived from human cells can develop the many specialized nerves required for function, mimicking the neuronal population found in the native colon. These highly specialized neurons, confined to the gut, form the enteric nervous system, which regulates digestive tract motility, secretion, absorption, and gastrointestinal blood flow.
"The diversity of neuron types that grew within the human tissue-engineered colon was a revelation to our team, because previously we had only documented that some ganglia were present," explained senior author Tracy Grikscheit, M.D., pediatric surgeon and researcher at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA. "The next step was to determine if these neuronal elements could be supplied to the tissue-engineered colon that was missing neurons—like in Hirschsprung's disease."