In vitro mucosal models

Research area overview 


Laboratory (in vitro) models of the gut and airways have been developed to study the absorption of different drugs and formulations and reduce the need for animal testing. The current models are overall reliable and appropriate for use in predicting the absorption of conventional, 'small drug molecules'. However, with the advent of biotechnology and nanotechnology, an increasing number of drugs based on biomolecules and 'nanomedicines' are being produced. These currently require parenteral administration (by injection). To avoid the need for injection, alternative routes of delivery are being researched for these molecules, including the oral and pulmonary routes. Current in vitro models of the intestinal and airway mucosa are not adequate for use in research looking into oral and lung delivery of biologics and nanomedicines since they fail to represent the complexity, including non-epithelial barriers of the mucosal tissue which could impact delivery of these complex therapeutics. 

There are clear needs for epithelial models which allow the screening of not only conventional drugs but also mucosal delivery of biologics and nanomedicines. Our research aims to address this unmet need through application of biological understanding of mucosal tissue and new materials.   

Current projects 

We currently use Caco-2 (intestinal) and Calu-3 (airway) models extensively. We have have expertise in culture conditions that produce more physiologically-accurate models utilising these cells.


We are currently also working with 3D intestinal organoids, which are advanced, physiologically-relevant models and are exploring the possibility for use of this state-of-the-art morel in drug delivery research.  

Select relevant publications

  1. Garnett M, Vllasaliu D, et al. Drug delivery - epithelial cell models for drug transport and toxicology studies. Biochemist 06/2014; 36(3).

  2. Vllasaliu D, et al. Basement membrane influences intestinal epithelial cell growth and presents a barrier to the movement of macromolecules. Exp Cell Res 2014, 323, (1):218-31.

  3. Vllasaliu D, et al. Barrier characteristics of epithelial cultures modelling the airway and intestinal mucosa: a comparison. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 2011, 415, (4):579-585.