Tackling Cancer with Personalized 3D Organoids

Image: DNA Strand

NAVS sees the value of using organoid models to advance our understanding of basic human biology and disease in a human-relevant, animal-free way, which is why we fund organoid research through the International Foundation for Ethical Research.

We are particularly excited to share with you some developments in using organoids to find therapies for cancer from an article recently published in The Scientist.

Because the molecular changes that drive cancer differ from one person to another, there is an increasing need to develop personalized cancer models that can help guide physicians in selecting the treatments that will work best for their patients.

While 2D cell models and animals have been used to study cancer for decades, both approaches have their limitations. Two-dimensional cell cultures tend to select for certain patient-derived cells that survive best in a petri dish or flask and don’t take into account the complexity of the cells found in a tumor. Animal models also are fraught with limitations, both scientifically and ethically.

Organoids are relatively newer to the scene and have advantages over both approaches. They are able to better reflect the complexity of tumors than 2D cultures, and they have human-relevance and take less time to create compared to animal models. Since 2011, organoid models of many cancers, including brain, breast, liver and prostate, have been generated. Because organoids can be made from patient-specific cancer cells, personalized mini 3D tumor models can be generated to quickly screen many drugs in an effort to find patient-specific treatments.

Because time is of the essence for cancer patients looking for the right treatment, it is important to be able to create patient-specific cancer models as quickly as possible. Mouse avatar models have been reported to take three to six months to develop, but organoids can be developed more quickly, as it takes just a week to go from surgery to getting results.

A research team led by UCLA cancer biologist Alice Soragni has been developing an automated approach to expedite organoid growth and testing. The team recently published a paper describing a protocol in which organoids were grown from ovarian cancer cells obtained during surgical resection. This new approach overcame some technical challenges of culturing organoids, and allowed researchers to create enough organoids from four patients such that hundreds of drugs were able to be tested to find those that worked best.

“Particularly for rare cancers, where there is so little information available, [oncologists really are interested in knowing, in having some guidance” on how to treat the disease, notes Soragni. Drug tests with personalized organoid models may just be what is needed to provide some direction.

We look forward to the expanded use of organoids as standard human-relevant models in cancer research—and many other areas of science—and will continue to share with you the progress that is made using these important research tools.


Source: Akst, J. “Tumor Organoids Hold Promise for Personalizing Cancer Therapy,” The Scientist, July 2019.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on August 16, 2019.
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