For their research, “Modeling Gastric Mucus Layer Physiology,” Aaron Fogelson (PI), James Keener, Owen Lewis (U Utah Mathematics), Henry Fu (U Utah Mechanical Engineering), Jian Du (Florida Institute of Technology), Rama Bansil (Boston University), James Wilking and Diane Bimczok (Montana State University), received a four-year award of $1.48M.

This project brings together a team of applied mathematicians and experimental physicists, engineers, and biologists, with expertise in biogels, mucus physics, microbiology and bacterial motility, and gastroenterology to tackle an important problem in physiology and pathology: how the gastric mucus layer is maintained and how it responds to infecting bacteria and to changes in topology and size in gastric organoids, spherical 3D cultures of a monolayer of differentiated epithelial cells. Cells in the stomach epithelium secrete the mucin that forms a mucus layer to protect the epithelium from the harsh environment of the stomach lumen, which is acidic and contains digestive enzymes such as pepsin. Epithelial cells also secrete acid, neutralizing bicarbonate, and pepsinogen, the inactive precursor to pepsin. These secretions form a complex system coupled by rheology, acid and ion concentration, electrostatics, and chemical reaction and catalysis. The goals are to understand how this system maintains homeostasis, understand how infectious Helicobacter pylori bacteria cross the mucus to colonize the epithelium, and determine whether gastric organoids can accurately model gastric mucus layer physiology and pathology.

Mechanical engineering associate professor Henry Fu directs the Fluids and Biomechanics Laboratory