Corona infection and replication in human gastric organoids

The research team have built on recent advances to grow ‘mini-organs’ in a laboratory, known as organoids. These organoids provide researchers with invaluable tools to study how organs function both when they are healthy and when impacted by disease.

In this study, published in Nature Communications, scientists have for the first time described how to grow mini-stomach organoids, across differing stages of development – fetal, child and adult.

To do this, researchers isolated stem cells from patient stomach samples, and grow them under special conditions in the lab to obtain mini-stomachs in a dish that mimic the behaviour of a human stomach.

As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, several hospitals reported gastrointestinal symptoms alongside the more usual respiratory effects like coughs and breathing difficulties, particularly in children. Following these cases, the research team determined that their mini-stomach model could be used to study how a SARS-CoV-2 infection affects the stomach.

The scientists were able to facilitate the infection of the mini-stomachs from the outside by exposing the surface of the cells to the virus. From this they showed that SARS-CoV-2 could replicate within the stomach, more noticeably in organoids that were grown from the child and late fetal cells, compared to adult and early fetal cells.

The research team were also able to look at the impact of the infection on the cells within the organoids, showing that a specific group of cells, called delta cells that make a hormone called somatostatin, had died, which could explain some of the stomach symptoms seen in patients. The team’s laboratory results mirror the pattern of gastrointestinal symptoms seen in patients of different ages.

The team now plan to continue their work utilising these new mini-stomachs, aiming to study how the stomach develops from early in pregnancy through to adulthood. They also hope to look at the effects of other common gastrointestinal infections.