Can you stomach it?
Researchers with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada sure hope so, but just to be sure, they’re going to put it to the test.
An artificial stomach has been installed at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba.
“It’s a system that’s based on the physiology of a human or animal gastrological tract. We put a food product or diet into the system and it simulates what happens in the stomach,” said James House, head of human nutritional sciences at the university. “We’ll be able to look at the factors that absorb and digest foods, including functional foods, and how they are absorbed and digested.”
The gutsy piece of equipment is comprised of tubes and pumps, standing a little taller than your average human. Enzymes are pumped in at appropriate junctures to mimic the digestion process.
“Basically, you would be loading the food samples from here,” said Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher, Sijo Joseph, pointing to a section near the top of the device. “The pH is controlled and also the temperature will be controlled at 37°, as in the human body… all the enzyme recreations, saliva secretions and different types of enzymes and bio-acids will be secreted from the back of the system.”
But the system isn’t limited to human digestion; it can also be used to study animal digestion. The effects of specific factors — like age and whether the stomach is full or fasting — can also be researched using the model stomach.
“Based on the computer profile you give, the digestion happens,” Joseph said, adding that the instrument also emulates the movements that accompany the digestive process. Samples can be taken at different stages throughout the digestive process.
The equipment, which cost about $600,000, will primarily be used by the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and the University of Manitoba. The research tool was funded, in part, by the Growing Innovation program.
“The results that come from these groups are consistently very positive and encouraging,” said Daryl Domitruk, of Manitoba Agriculture. “I’m positive that this equipment will enable them to achieve more great results.”
The model stomach could also draw researchers from around the world to the University of Manitoba, he said.
“This opens the doors for people who, we believe, are very capable of doing very critical and world-class research,” Domitruk said. “This equipment will be able to show how the foods we produce in Manitoba can have a positive effect on health and could potentially save in health-care expenses.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher Nancy Ames is one of those creating procedures for the model stomach that will change the way new crop varieties are tested for health benefits.
“What we’re doing with it, is really trying to investigate a number of different agri-food products that we’re working on that are made out of cereal grains or made out of pulses,” said Ames. “We’re trying to look at potential differences in glycemic response. We’re looking at differences in protein quality in some of these agri-food products.”
The artificial stomach at the University of Manitoba is one of only two such devices in Canada.
– With files from Ed White.