A biopsy of the human small intestine visualised with a confocal laser scanning microscope.
The lining of the small intestine has a very complicated architecture, partly to increase the surface area through which it can absorb nutrients. It is covered in microscopic folds, called villi, with pits, known as crypts, between them. In these crypts are stem cells that drive the continual renewing of cells lining the surface. When this process goes wrong, it can lead to chronic intestinal disorders or cancer. Understanding the processes behind how these stem cells are regulated and renew the lining of the gut will could give insights into these diseases. To help this, researchers from the Institute of Food Research, and the University of East Anglia, working within the Gut Health and Food Safety Programme, have developed a validated computer model of the way stem cells in intestinal crypts function.
In a recent article in PLoS ONE, the team describe the model, which can help overcome the practical problems with studying these stem cells, and show how the chances of mutations in the stem cells being propagated through the entire crypt depend on where the mutation initially happens. The model has also been used to simulate the way crypts can recover after acute injury, such as during radiotherapy.
Emma Gaskell, a third year Biological Sciences UEA undergraduate student doing Science Communication work experience at IFR, explains more on the GHFS blog.