Science and Health

Tiny, Lab-Grown Stomachs Could Treat Stomach Diseases

The researchers grew tiny stomachs using stem cells, saying the research could lead to better treatment for ulcers and even stomach cancer.

Tiny, Lab-Grown Stomachs Could Treat Stomach Diseases
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

There are tons of people who, much like these animals, are probably thinking, "Hey, I could use a smaller stomach." Well, they aren't alone.

A group of researchers decided they, too, could use some smaller — like, really small — stomachs, and their experiment could help us better understand deadly stomach diseases.

The research team began by manipulating stem cells:

"Stem cells are cells that are undifferentiated, meaning they do not a specific job or function. ... Stem cells do have the potential to become all other kinds of cells in your body." 

Because these cells have the ability to become anything, known as pluripotency, the researchers were able to add growth hormones to them to help them develop into gastric tissue. The mini-stomachs, which were the size of BB bullets and not as cute as "mini-stomachs" sound, were later called gastric organoids. (Video via Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center)

One of the things the researchers were able to do with these tiny stomachs is observe what happens when a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori first meets the stomach. 

According to WebMD, Helicobactor pylori can produce excess stomach acid. Scientists believe the infection can spread through food or water and can ultimately lead to stomach cancer — which the American Cancer Society estimates will kill nearly 11,000 people in the U.S. this year alone. 

The researchers injected the tiny stomachs with the bacteria and found that it began attacking the stomach immediately, "attaching to the stomach lining and causing tumors to start growing in response." 

Dr. James Wells, who led the research, said this particular observation could help save countless lives in the future. 

DR. JAMES WELLS, CINCINNATI CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL MEDICAL CENTER: "We can now study the early stages of that disease and then use this as a research tool to try to identify therapies to prevent stomach disease. Up until now, there's been no good way to study stomach diseases in human." 

Wells told Bloomberg it'll be a while before one of these gastric organoids can replace a stomach, but he added we'll soon be able to grow pieces of stomach tissue to patch-up ulcers. The study was published in the journal Nature

This video includes images from Getty Images.