Digestion-on-a-chip: a continuous-flow modular microsystem recreating enzymatic digestion in the gastrointestinal tract
In vitro digestions are essential for determining the bioavailability of compounds, such as nutrients. We have developed a cell-free, miniaturized enzymatic digestive system, employing three micromixers connected in series to mimic the digestive functions of the mouth, stomach and small intestine. This system continuously processes samples, e.g. containing nutrients, to provide a constant flow of digested materials which may be presented to a subsequent gut-on-a-chip absorption module, containing living human intestinal cells. Our system incorporates three-compartment enzymatic digestion, one of the key functions of the gastrointestinal tract. In each of these compartments, we modify the chemical environment, including pH, buffer, and mineral composition, to closely mimic the local physiological environment and create optimal conditions for digestive processes to take place. It will therefore provide an excellent addition to existing gut-on-a-chip systems, providing the next step in determining the bio-availability of orally administered compounds in a fast and continuous-flow ex vivo system. In this paper, we demonstrate enzymatic digestion in each separate compartment using compounds, starch and casein, as model nutrients. The use of transparent, microfluidic micromixers based on chaotic advection, which can be probed directly with a microscope, enabled enzyme kinetics to be monitored from the very start of a reaction. Furthermore, we have digested lactoferrin in our system, demonstrating complete digestion of this milk protein in much shorter times than achievable with standard in vitro digestions using batch reactors.
- This article is part of the themed collection: Organ-, body- and disease-on-a-chip systems