The intestinal epithelium is one of the most rapidly renewing tissues in the human body and fulfils vital physiological roles such as barrier function and transport of nutrients and fluid. Investigation of gut epithelial physiology in health and disease has been hampered by the lack of ex vivo models of the native human intestinal epithelium. Recently, remarkable progress has been made in defining intestinal stem cells and in generating intestinal organoid cultures. In parallel, we have developed a 3D culture system of the native human colonic epithelium that recapitulates the topological hierarchy of stem cell-driven tissue renewal and permits the physiological study of native polarized epithelial cells. Here we describe methods to establish 3D cultures of intact human colonic crypts and conduct real-time imaging of intestinal tissue renewal, cellular signalling, and physiological function, in conjunction with manipulation of gene expression by lentiviral or adenoviral transduction. Visualization of mRNA- and protein-expression patterns in cultured human colonic crypts, and cross-validation with crypts derived from fixed mucosal biopsies, is also described. Alongside studies using intestinal organoids, the near-native human colonic crypt culture model will help to bridge the gap that exists between investigation of colon cancer cell lines and/or animal (tissue) studies, and progression to clinical trials. To this end, the near native human colonic crypt model provides a platform to aid the development of novel strategies for the prevention of inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.