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Organoids for personalized cancer treatment

Two studies published in Nature and Cell this month show that organoids, miniature organs that can be cultured in a dish, could be crucial for personalized treatment of cancer.In 2009, scientists at the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands developed a method to culture mini intestines from mice using stem cells. These mini intestines are functional miniature organs, called ‘organoids’. The organoid technology has now been used to create a cell culture model of human colon cancer progression and for the construction of a living biobank of ‘tumoroids’.

Using the organoid technology, researchers were able to show that only four mutations are necessary to transform a healthy intestinal cell to a cancer cell.

Intestinal cancer cells have over hundreds to thousands of mutations, which makes it very difficult to determine which mutations are involved in the development and survival of cancer. But for therapeutic targeting of cancer it is essential to target the right genetic mutations. Using gene editing, the Hubrecht scientists have shown that with only 4 mutations a healthy intestinal cell can be transformed to a cancer cell. The cancer progression model they created can be used to study processes involved in colon cancer development and for cancer drug discovery.

This research was published in Nature

Shortly after this publication, the research group of Hans Clevers reported in Cell that they were able to create a living biobank for colorectal cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer; annually almost 700,000 people die of this disease worldwide.

The researchers used tumor tissue from 20 patients with colorectal cancer, to create ‘tumoroids’: organoids from tumours. These tumoroids are a good reflection of the original tumour, which is very important for testing drugs.

The study shows that it is possible to determine the resistance or sensitivity of the tumour tissue of the individual patient for a variety of cancer drugs. In a next step, this method can be used to prescribe a therapy to every individual cancer patient, based on drug resistance or drug sensitivity of the cultured tumour tissue.

This research was published in Cell