Model gut brings life-like stomach to the bench-top

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Digestion

Answering questions about food structure, the potential of bioactive ingredients, and general safety could be achievable in-house and on the bench top within 18 months, if development of the most advanced model gut continues as planned.

The model gut, developed by scientists at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK, is said to be the only model of the human stomach that combines emerging knowledge of the physical, mechanical, and biochemical environments experienced during digestion.

Understanding exactly how foods are digested is key to continued innovation in the food industry, particularly for the growing area of novel, functional, and specialist food characterisation, and for the screening of potentially bioactive compounds.

“A lot of food companies are already using it,” ​Dr Martin Wickham, platform leader of the project, told However, they are currently outsourcing directly to the IFR for their studies.

Within the next 12 to 18 months, companies may be able to buy and install in-house model guts to help with their R&D effort, as the scientists behind the model gut are putting the finishing touches on the next generation of equipment.

“We are designing them so we can actually sell units,”​ said Dr Wickham.

A prototype was developed about two years ago, he said, and is divided into three sections, mirroring a real human stomach. The first part simulates the main body of the stomach, which is characterised by uneven mixing and followed by a unique emptying routine. The second part is a model of the lower part of the stomach called the antrum. This area is characterised by stronger mechanical forces with breakdown the structure of the food. The final stage simulated the conditions found in the small intestine (duodenum), including changes to pH.

“We wanted to develop models as close to the human system,”​ said Dr Wickham.

The model measures about two-thirds the size of an adult stomach, but with all the rest of the kit involved it “takes us quite a bit of the bench”​, he said.


The scientists used human studies to collect data on how the gut handles and responds to food, including the mixing dynamics, breakdown forces, hydration patterns, and diffusion profiles. Biochemical parameters, such as digestive enzymes, acid, bicarbonate, phospholipids and bile are also accounted for by the model.

“The IFR model Gut offers a physiologically relevant screening tool that will provide valuable data for evaluating novel and existing foodstuffs, diets and pharmaceutical preparations,”​ says the IFR website.

“The model provides an accurate and meaningful method for predicting the fate of compounds, nutrients and formulae prior to absorption and therefore will become an invaluable tool for mechanistic, stability and bioaccessability studies during product development.”

The pharma angle

The model gut may also be applied to the pharmaceutical industry, said Dr Wickham, to assist in oral drug development. “Pharma wants units on the bench within 12 to 18 months,”​ he said.

And being able to model the digestion of pharmaceutical compounds in a system close to the human stomach has implications for the use of animals in drug development, said Dr Wickham.

“We do hope that we can replace animal studies,”​ he said.

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