Taking a look inside digestion

In vitro stomach to help Manitoba food research

Dr. James House will begin work with the
in vitro stomach system in 2016.

With the help of a new artificial in vitro stomach, Manitoba will soon become a central hub for dietary and digestive research.

While research into digestion has been ongoing for several years, it has usually been done with laboratory animals or with people who volunteer to have tests conducted after consuming a specific meal. Using the laboratory simulator will make this research more efficient and repeatable.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba (UofM) will be able to use the simulator to safely look at bigger doses or different combinations of foods to see results faster.

"It's a system that's based on the physiology of a human or animal gastrological tract. We put a food product or diet into the system and it simulates what happens in the stomach," said Dr. James House, head of human nutritional sciences at UofM. "We'll be able to look at the factors that absorb and digest foods, including functional foods, and how they are absorbed and digested."

The equipment simulates both the stomach as well as the small intestine of an animal or human. The equipment is made up of glass tubes and uses a combination of chemicals, bacteria, enzymes, engineering and software to break down food from start to finish. When food is placed into the simulator it is swished back and forth and mixed together with gastric acid before passing into the three stages of the intestine. Through each stage a researcher can take samples and see how the food's proteins, fats, carbohydrates and other components have been broken down, and if they are small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Researchers also control the temperature and pH levels of each section to ensure accuracy.

Boost to local economy

Being based in Manitoba means more opportunity to have the effects of locally-sourced foods tested against various diseases and dietary conditions, along with their overall effect on a person's health. The two areas being examined first include the factors influencing the digestion of proteins contained in Manitoba crops and the rate of release of sugars from these foods.

The equipment was funded in part by the Growing Innovation program and will be used primarily by researchers from the University of Manitoba, the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine and the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals.

"The results that come from these groups are consistently very positive and encouraging," said Daryl Domitruk, director of agriculture innovation and adaptation for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. "I'm positive that this equipment will enable them to achieve more great results."

Bringing research from around the world

Domitruk said bringing the simulator to the UofM will support unique and world class research in the area of food and medicine. While most of the research will be done by local groups and researchers, the invitation will be open for other researchers to send samples or visit the UofM to use the equipment.

"This opens the doors for people who, we believe, are very capable of doing very critical and world class research," Domitruk said. "This equipment will be able to show how the foods we produce in Manitoba can have a positive effect on health and could potentially save in health-care expenses."

Domitruk adds that results of on-going studies show the positive effects of certain foods on fighting chronic disease. Researchers need to take the next steps and find precisely why these foods behave in this fashion by observing the complex process of digestion. When considering the potential health benefits of Manitoba crops, the value of the agriculture industry to Manitoba takes on a whole new dimension.

The equipment is expected to be functioning and ready to accept samples by January 1, 2016.