Through our funding of the International Foundation for Ethical Research, NAVS has a long supported the development of human-relevant, cell-based models, and has viewed these tools as powerful alternatives to animal experiments. So, what are the latest advancements in three-dimensional cell models—and what does the future hold? The journal Science recently devoted a special section to the topic of organoids and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of these important models that may be able to reduce and replace animal experimentation.
Organoids are complex in vitro models that mimic the structure and function of real tissues and organs. As such, they enable studies of topics ranging from early organ development and tissue interaction to research regarding diseased states.
These multicellular stem-cell derived models are formed when stem cells self-assemble and organize into complex 3D structures. Many different organoid models are already available, including models of the liver, kidney (pictured at left), brain, breast and gastrointestinal tract, among others.
One promising application of organoids is their use as disease models. One article discussed the emerging role of organoids in cancer research. In addition to genetically modifying cells of normal organoids to give them cancerous mutations, organoids can also be made from tumors of patients suffering from cancer, enabling the generation of a personalized model. While some researchers, unfortunately, go on to implant organoids into animal models to create in vivo models, much can be learned about human cancers by studying the organoids themselves in vitro.
Steps are also being taking to increase the complexity of organoid models. Researchers are trying to generate organoids with higher-order functions and multiple layers of tissue by engineering the models in very controlled ways, in hopes of creating even better organ models.
Researchers are also merging organoids with organs-on-chips, which share the goal of mimicking the complexity of human organs. Researchers believe that combining these two types of models will lead to an even stronger in vitro model that may help overcome some issues that affect organoid research, including controlling the microenvironment around the organoid, modeling tissue-tissue and multiorgan interactions, and reducing the variability of organoids.
While some technical challenges remain with both organoids and organs-on-chips, including how to scale up production to meet the demands of research while ensuring that the models maintain the integrity of the tissues they are representing, we are excited to see the scientific community tackling these obstacles and are optimistic that these in vitro tools will have a significant impact on the reducing and replacing animal use in science.
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Source: “Organoids” Special Section, Science, June 7, 2019.
Image credit (vascularized kidney organoid): Wyss Institute at Harvard University