Snapshots of Life: Tales from the (Intestinal) Crypt!

Caption: This “spooky” video ends with a scientific image of intestinal crypts (blue and green) plus organoids made from cultured crypt stem cells (pink). 

As Halloween approaches, some of you might be thinking about cueing up the old TV series “Tales from the Crypt” and diving into its Vault of Horror for a few hours. But today I’d like to share the story of a quite different and not nearly so scary kind of crypt: the crypts of Lieberkühn, more commonly called intestinal crypts.

This confocal micrograph depicts a row of such crypts (marked in blue and green) lining a mouse colon. In mice, as well as in humans, the intestines contain millions of crypts, each of which has about a half-dozen stem cells at its base that are capable of regenerating the various types of tissues that make up these tiny glands. What makes my tale of the crypt particularly interesting are the oval structures (pink), which are organoids that have been engineered from cultured crypt stem cells and then transplanted into a mouse model. If you look at the organoids closely, you’ll see Paneth cells (aqua blue), which are immune cells that support the stem cells and protect the intestines from bacterial invasion.

A winner in the 2016 “Image Awards” at the Koch Institute Public Galleries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, this image was snapped by Jatin Roper, a physician-scientist in the lab of Omer Yilmaz, with the help of his MIT collaborator Tuomas Tammela. Roper and his colleagues have been making crypt organoids for a few years by placing the stem cells in a special 3D chamber, where they are bathed with the right protein growth factors at the right time to spur them to differentiate into the various types of cells found in a crypt.

Once the organoids are developmentally complete, Roper can inject them into mice and watch them take up residence. Then he can begin planning experiments.

For example, Roper’s group is now considering using the organoids to examine how high-fat and low-calorie diets affect intestinal function in mice. Another possibility is to use similar organoids to monitor the effect of aging on the colon or to test which of a wide array of targeted therapies might work best for a particular individual with colon cancer.

Links:

Video: Gut Reaction (Jatin Roper)

Jatin Roper (Tufts Medical Center, Boston)

Omer Yilmaz (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge)

The Koch Institute Galleries (MIT)

NIH Support: National Cancer Institute; National Institute on Aging

Summer Reading Suggestions from Scientists

Summer ReadingNow that we are in the “dog days” of summer, it’s time again to consider which books to pack (or load onto your e-reader) for your well-deserved getaway to the beach and beyond. With so many interesting titles published every year, it’s never easy to make recommendations. But I thought it might be fun to ask a few distinguished researchers to share a few of their favorite reads—both about science and other things in the world at large. Some might be classics; some might have just been published. It’s up to the guests to decide.

During the month of August, the NIH Director’s Blog will run a series of guest posts in which some of biomedical science’s most creative minds discuss one or two of the books they’ve been reading. I’m sure what they share will be informative, provocative, and possibly even provide you with a few more possibilities for your late summer reading list. So, please check out the blog next Tuesday for the first installment in our scientists’ summer reading series, which happens to be penned by an avid reader who also holds a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Can anyone guess who it is?

We Did It!

 

Survey ClosedThanks to your swift and overwhelming response, the NIH Director’s Blog survey is now closed.  I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to respond. Your feedback is greatly appreciated and will be used to help shape the blog as we move forward.

The Only Gift I Want This Season … Is Your Thoughts!

Season Greetings & Happy New YearFrom my “house” at NIH to yours, I’d like to wish each of you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season and a happy, healthful New Year. Throughout the past year, I hope that you’ve enjoyed the entries in this blog, sharing just a few of the many breakthroughs in biomedical research and introducing you to some of the young scientists who fill me with such hope for the future. As we prepare to turn the NIH Director’s Blog calendar to 2016, I look forward to bringing you even more exciting discoveries that show the power of science to build a healthier tomorrow.

But I need your help! In this season of giving, I’d like to ask each of you for a little something: your thoughts on how to make what I think is a good blog even better. So, please click on the “gift” below to take part in a brief, anonymous survey that should take no more than a couple of minutes. Thanks so much for your time!Open Survey

President’s Visit to NIH Highlights Research on Ebola

President during NIH lab visit

Caption: Dr. Nancy Sullivan of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) discussing Ebola research with President Barack Obama as NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell look on.
Credit: NIH

Today, we had the great honor of welcoming President Barack Obama to the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD—to see first-hand the progress that biomedical research is making against Ebola virus disease. The President toured the NIH Vaccine Research Center, and met with scientists who are working hard to develop ways to combat this deadly virus that continues to devastate West Africa. And, in a speech before a packed auditorium at the NIH Clinical Center, the President praised the contributions of NIH staff. He also emphasized the need for emergency Congressional authorization of resources to ensure that our nation’s research and public health efforts against Ebola will lead as quickly as possible to an end to this devastating outbreak.

The President heard about many encouraging advances against Ebola during his visit here, and I’d like to share a couple with you now. I think these examples—one about a vaccine and one about a treatment—speak to the extraordinary ways in which scientists from different fields, disciplines, and organizations are pulling together to tackle this urgent disease threat.

Continue reading