Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
November 19, 2003
New testing method makes food safety easier to digest
University of Guelph researchers say a method of growing human intestine cells in a flask can simulate digestion and help scientists monitor safe levels of toxins that are in foods we eat everyday.
Researchers are using a flask-based or in vitro method of studying cadmium levels in foods– without using a live subject. The work involved growing a single layer of intestinal cells in a flask to provide a fast and inexpensive method of detecting metals transported into an organism.
“Cadmium is very relevant to humans, which is why we decided to study it,” said Michael Waisberg, a graduate student in Toxicology and Land Resource Science, who worked on the project. “The metal is carcinogenic, and it’s present in many foods including shellfish, liver, and all sorts of grains – foods we eat everyday.”
This cell-growing process involves live, human intestinal cells obtained from a cell bank. These cells – called “immortal cells” because of their transformed nature – are placed in a flask, and naturally reproduce to form a thin single layer of cells that simulate the intestine – a monolayer.
The cadmium-containing food, which has been digested in the lab using stomach solution, is then placed in the flask with the monolayer. The cadmium within the food naturally moves itself through the cell monolayer, simulating what happens in the latter stages of the digestion process, when nutrients and elements (like cadmium) are broken down and absorbed through the intestine.
“If we can understand how much cadmium is being digested, we can set limits for the amount that can be absorbed by an organism,” said Waisberg.
Professor Bev Hale and Deb Chan of the Department of Land Resource Science are also involved in this research, which has since progressed to using a more advanced kind of culture system. “We are now able to measure transport of the toxins through the layer of cells to simulate the amount that would actually pass through the intestinal wall and be available to the circulatory system, and thus target organs of the body,” Hale said.
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