Gut-microbiota-on-a-chip: an enabling field for physiological research
Overwhelming scientific evidence today confirms that the gut microbiota is a central player in human health. Knowledge about interactions between human gut microbiota and human health has evolved rapidly in the last decade, based on experimental work involving analysis of human fecal samples or animal models (mainly rodents). A more detailed and cost-effective description of this interplay is now being enabled by the use of in vitro systems (i.e., gut-microbiota-on-chip systems) that recapitulate key aspects of the interaction between microbiota and human cells. Here, we review recent examples of the design and use of pioneering on-chip platforms for the study of the cross-talk between representative members of human microbiota and human microtissues. In these systems, the combined use of state-of-the-art microfluidics, biomaterials, cell culture techniques, classical microbiology, and a touch of genetic expression profiling have converged for the development of gut-on-chip platforms capable of recreating key features of the interplay between human microbiota and host human tissues. We foresee that the integration of novel microfabrication techniques and stem cell technologies will further accelerate the development of more complex and physiologically relevant microbiota-on-chip platforms. In turn, this will foster the faster acquisition of knowledge regarding human microbiota and will enable important advances in the understanding of how to control or prevent disease.