Wang joined Iowa State in 2012 after doing his post-doc at the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, where he gained training and a better understanding of isolating and culturing intestinal stem cells. In the CBE department at Iowa State, he focuses on treatments for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). “I wanted to create a way to deliver intestinal stem cells to the gut. The cells then attach to a damaged part and replicate and differentiate into different cells that will eventually lead to repair of the injured gut,” he says.
Creating a gut system is incredibly difficult because of its complexity. According to Wang, “The gut environment is the second most complicated ecosystem in the world, right after soil. There are around 130 trillion microorganisms and more than 1,000 species in the gut.”
Its complexity and harsh environment makes it very easy for IBD to damage the intestines. In healthy humans, a thin mucus layer covers the gut. However, when the system is damaged or the immunological balance is broken, the gut is exposed to bacteria and viruses, which can attack the gut epithelium and cause inflammation.
“This is brand new research. The first in vitro gut system was created in 2009, and before that project, people thought that the gut was too fragile and incapable of being cultured or grown outside our body,” says Wang.
IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a lifelong disease that affects approximately 1.6 million Americans, which is why the CCFA has started investing in this research. The $254,006 funding for Wang’s award will be applied over three years and will be used to help the project grow.