We present a novel method for testing drug permeability that features human cells cultured on hydrogel scaffolds made to accurately replicate the shape and size of human small intestinal villi. We compared villous scaffolds to more conventional 2D cultures in paracellular drug absorption and cell growth experiments. Our results suggest that 3D villous platforms facilitate cellular differentiation and absorption more similar to mammalian intestines than can be achieved using conventional culture. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first accurate 3D villus model offering a well-controlled microenvironment that has strong physiological relevance to the in vivo system. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012;109: 2173–2178. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.