Cutting-Edge Technology Helps Researchers Study Your Gut

By Michael Hill

This is a high-tech version of your stomach, intestines and colon.

“It’s definitely an amazing thing,” said Michael Chikindas, director of Food Science at Rutgers University.

It’s called a SHIME. It stands for Simulator of Human Intestinal Microbial Ecosystem. As the name implies, SHIME mimics the functions of the human gastrointestinal tract.

Peter Gillies said, “We can do experiments in here before we do the same studies in humans.”

How important is that?

Gillies explained, “This is really important because the area of human microbiome and the role that it has in human health and disease. This is cutting-edge science. This is just emerging. We really don’t know much about the human microbiome and how it interacts with us and this instrument allows us to do basic research. What I think is really important about this instrument is it’s very easy to take what we do in this machine here and quickly translate it in to a study with humans.”

Researchers in Rutgers University’s New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health can feed it just like a human — three times a day. But unlike in humans in real time, they can see reactions, measure responses and take samples.

“The samples can be drawn at every fraction of the gastrointestinal tract and we can see pretty much real-life situation with digestion,” said Chikindas.

SHIME can eliminate the need for animal testing and opens up what researchers say are endless opportunities to study and potentially prevent cancer, Crohn’s disease and obesity just to name a few.

“If you look at the microbiome of an obese person and you look at the microbiome of a lean person, it’s related. And if you swap them you can reverse the obeseogenic phenotype. We can study that right here. Nobody knows how that works, but we can figure that out. If we can figure that out, we can very quickly translate that science and it will impact us right here,” said Gillies.

Rutgers recently installed SHIME. A Belgium company makes it and monitors the work here.

There are only two SHIMEs in America. One at the USDA and the other one at Rutgers University.

Gillies said, “This is a really great opportunity for our students. The students come to Rutgers and we have an obligation to teach them at the cutting edge.”

Rutgers says SHIME will give its students an edge in education and experience second-to-none on a college campus.