5 Exciting Ways to Teach Intestinal Glucose Transport

Anjaney Kothari

Transport of nutrients, such as glucose, across the intestinal barrier is a complex physiological phenomenon that can impact human health. Studying this phenomenon typically involves the use of everted sacs, which are intestinal segments turned inside out.

While this experimental model provides very useful results that enhance our understanding of the gut, it is technically quite complex. Researchers must not only carefully evert the intestinal sac, but also manipulate mucosal glucose concentrations to analyze nutrient transport.

This means educators need to seek innovative methods to teach intestinal glucose transport and the everted sac method to students. Here are five exciting ways to teach intestinal glucose transport so students can competently experiment with it in the lab:

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Active glucose transport in the intestine involves a lot of working parts, such as transporter proteins. And studying this transport requires the glucose assay, which in turn involves various molecules like glucose oxidase, peroxidase and o-dianisidine. Biological systems and assays with so many components become easier to understand with the use of interactive models. Students interrogate these interactive models – virtual or physical – in real time, learning more than they would in a typical lesson.

For example, Labster’s intestinal glucose transport simulation includes an interactive animation through which the students evert a mouse intestinal segment. The simulation also provides a step-by-step interactive summary diagram so students can readily visualize the cell physiology of glucose transport.

Everted intestinal sac preparation in virtual lab.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Some students are great with theoretical concepts, others excel at experiments. If you combine theory with experiments via games and activities, students will be able to understand the subject matter in its entirety.

Here are some examples of what you could do:

Engage the students in an activity where they see passive transport of a dye through a dialysis membrane. Then explain the difference between active and passive transport in the context of the intestine.

Use a surrogate for the intestine – like a balloon – to help students practice eversion while making it a fun competition.

3. Accelerate Learning by Incorporating Technology

Extrapolating the results of an animal experiment to clinical cases is a bridge one must cross very carefully. The similarities and differences between animal and human physiology determine the extent to which an extrapolation is permissible and meaningful. Technology, through animations and simulations, can improve how students understand these similarities and differences, and make clinical translation more appropriate.

Labster’s intestinal glucose transport simulation, for example, offers a glimpse into how scientists translate animal studies into clinically useful information. Students first perform a mouse experiment to study how a sodium-potassium ATPase blocker affects intestinal glucose absorption. Afterwards, they translate the results of the mouse experiment to a clinical setting involving an infant with glucose malabsorption.  

The setup for intestinal glucose transport virtual lab.
Discover Labster's Intestinal Glucose Transport virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Intestinal transport is an indispensable topic of study in numerous professions – gastroenterology, tissue engineering, drug development and metabolism, and others. But how well do your students know this? Imagine your students’ excitement when they know that studying intestinal glucose transport might help them professionally save lives!

Organize an interactive seminar or workshop with eminent gastroenterologists who run research labs. They will be able to share with your students how relevant studying intestinal nutrient transport is to their profession. Tell your students how tissue engineers developing functional models of the small intestine regularly utilize glucose transport assays.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

A career involving turning intestines inside out may not be the most enticing thing out there. But if you connect it to real-world applications with huge implications in healthcare and biomedical research, it might just be.

Discuss with your students why intestinal transport is important when it comes to nutrient deficiencies. Tell them how inflammatory bowel disease patients could suffer from anemia due to insufficient transport of iron through the intestine. Tell them why turning a piece of intestine inside out is important to study these real-world phenomena. Forging such connections with real-world applications can make students excited about intestinal transport and about studying it using everted sacs.

Final thoughts

Students aiming to study intestinal absorption and metabolism must learn to work with in vitro models like the everted sac. The out-of-the-box teaching methods that we have discussed here can make these models fun and exciting for your students.

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