Progress towards engineering tissue to treat Short Bowel Syndrome

Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) is a condition caused by a small intestine that is dysfunctional or atypically short, meaning it is unable to absorb enough water and nutrients. The most severe cases may require transplantation, but donor organs are in short supply and could lead to complications. INTENS is an EU-funded project that is working on engineering patient-specific intestines. The results have indicated this research could lead to a potential treatment for SBS in future.


What is the idea behind these studies?

INTENS is focused on artificially growing segments of the small intestine, with the long-term aim to be able to deliver a functional small bowel. Researchers use stem cells and patient tissue to grow organoids – groups of cells that resemble organs and function in similar ways – and scaffolds – the engineered platform to support and transplant the cells.


What did the results show?

In one study, biomaterials from children affected by SBS were used to grow intestinal organoids. In parallel, by comparing scaffolds on to which the organoids could be ‘seeded’ to reconstruct transplantable intestinal grafts, researchers found that the small intestine and colon could be used interchangeably. The resulting living tissue exhibited several important functions of the inner layer of the intestine.  Another key study combined tissue engineering and the intrinsic ability of cells to self-organise to form mini-gut tubes that retained key features of the intestine, including specialised cell types and the capacity to regenerate. This demonstrates a way to guide stem cells to form organoids that more closely match the physiology of the real tissue.


What does this mean for patients?

These proof-of-concept studies represent significant progress towards being able to engineer intestinal tissue to treat Short Bowel Syndrome. The similarities between small intestine and colon scaffolds open up the possibility that colon tissue could be used for children who have lost their entire small bowel. Advances in organoid technology enable the next stages of research that are necessary before safe and effective treatment can be made available.


Find out more


The European Commission published a 'success story' about the INTENS project:

A revolutionary way of treating Short Bowel Syndrome


EuroStemCell Fact Sheet:

Short Bowel Syndrome: how can stem cells help?


INTENS website:

Intens – Intestinal Tissue ENgineering Solution


The papers:

Engineering transplantable jejunal mucosal grafts using patient-derived organoids from children with intestinal failure | Nature Medicine

Homeostatic mini-intestines through scaffold-guided organoid morphogenesis | Nature