Biologists and engineers unite to make gut

January 27, 2007 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

Scientists and engineers in the East of England have worked with intellectual property experts to create the world’s first biochemically and physiologically accurate human gut model.

Dr Martin Wickham, the project’s lead scientist at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in Norwich, worked with engineers from TWI in Cambridge to build the model.

Dr Wickham said the first six months of communicating with engineers was a challenge:

“We had to sit down and give them hours of biology lessons over several months, as we refined the model. I also had to learn a lot about engineering principles, like how stresses are applied to the gut. We’ve found middle ground and developed language that allows us to communicate about how the model gut works. The engineers now know more about the biology of the human gut than most biologists,” he said.

Dr Roger Wise, the lead engineer on the project, found it a rewarding experience.

“It was a very stimulating space that we explored together on the boundaries of biology and engineering. It took some time to acclimatise to the space but it was a very fertile and stimulating environment to work in,” he said.

After two years of cross-discipline collaboration the team have a sophisticated device that is already attracting the attention of major drug and food companies, as an accurate and non-invasive testing tool, with the potential to reduce human and animal trials.

Dr Wickham had the idea for the model gut twelve years ago whilst doing his PhD at the University of East Anglia studying the gut as a bioreactive model, and later developed the concepts further under funding at IFR from the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council).

Three years ago Dr Wickham took his idea to Plant Bioscience Limited (PBL), the commercialisation company at the Norwich Research Park. PBL filed patents on the invention and funded TWI to design and build the instrument.

PBL and Dr Wickham have started commercialising the model gut in a new space at the Norwich BioIncubator at the John Innes Centre. They’re developing the business with a select group of customers from different industries.

This article appeared in Innovation East magazine. Read this article on the i10 website or download the magazine.

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Entry filed under: biotechnology, business, engineering, food, health, innovation, science, technology, united kingdom.

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