Penn team creates first bile duct-on-a-chip

The first-ever “bile duct-on-a-chip,” replicating the structure and cellular makeup of the human digestive organ, was created by a team at Penn Medicine, led by Rebecca Wells, a professor of gastroenterology, with Yu Du, a postdoctoral fellow in the division of gastroenterology, as the first author. The small model—4 millimeters long and 0.16 millimeters in diameter—now makes it possible for researchers to study the difficult-to-access tissue without the need for human participants or living animal models, which could open the door for more research into bile duct-related illness in both children and adults. A detailed explanation of the bile duct-on-a-chip and the researchers’ findings are published in the journal Hepatology.

Closeup microscope medical technology

Bile ducts are the tubes that transfer bile—a highly toxic fluid—from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine, where it assists the body with digestion and plays a role in waste excretion. Inside the bile ducts, the lining cells called cholangiocytes are packed very tightly and can typically tolerate the highly toxic nature of bile and other substances flowing through the interior of the ducts. Researchers have been studying biliary physiopathology using 2D dishes and organoids in vitro for years. However, those models failed to replicate the ducts’ tubular structure and made it difficult to access the interior side of cholangiocytes.

“Bile ducts are not like copper pipes or garden hoses where the material on the inside is the same as the material on the outside. The inside and outside of bile ducts look very different, and our research shows they react differently when in direct contact with the liquid bile,” says Wells.

Read more at Penn Medicine News.