Hadassah’s Revolution in Scientific Research: What are Organoids?

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Classically, researchers in basic medical science have had two tools: in vitro cultures and animal models. The limitations pose many challenges:

  • Cells taken out of the human body and grown in a petri dish won’t behave exactly as they do within a real organ of the body.
  • Animal models are not as highly complex as the human body.
  • They cannot capture the heterogeneity of human beings.

 

Today, however, basic science research is experiencing a revolution with the creation of organoids3D miniature cellular, and functional replicas of our bodily organs.

 “Now, we have the closest model to the real thing, which enables us to study human disease in the best way,” explained Myriam Grunewald, Ph.D., head of the Hadassah Hospital’s newly established Organoid Centre within Hadassah’s Wohl Institute for Translational Medicine.

Dr. Grunewald shared the above explanation of classical medical science research and the significance of this revolution during the webinar “Honey, I Shrunk the Organs,” episode four of Hadassah International’s series “50 Shades of Health: A Journey Into the Future of Medicine.”

Dr. Liron Birimberg-Schwartz, medical director of the Organoid Centre, and pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Alex Gileles-Hillel joined Dr. Grunewald in describing how organoids, in mimicking human organs, have the potential to enable physicians to better treat a patient with targeted therapy.

Dr. Birimberg-Schwartz explained that, in the 1980s, cystic fibrosis (CF) genetic mutation was discovered that causes a protein to malfunction, leading to a build up of thick mucus, which, in turn, causes breathing difficulties and lung infections. Medicines were developed to treat the condition, but the drugs did not work on all patients. While doing a fellowship in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Birimberg-Schwartz recalls, she had a very ill CF patient for whom none of the current medicines were any help. Using organoid technology, she and her colleagues tested different drug combinations and discovered one that restored the patient’s protein function.

“I understood then how significant this research is and how much we can affect patient outcomes,” she said. “I kept thinking that we have to do this faster.”

Dr. Grunewald and her colleagues are now establishing a bank of organoids representing different organs and individuals with a variety of genetic backgrounds. The goal is to capture as many diseases as possible, she noted. Each organoid is frozen and then, on-demand can be defrosted and used to either answer a basic scientific question—how bacteria in the gut triggers the formation of tumour cells, for example—or to help a physician decide which drug to give a patient to achieve the best outcome.

As Dr. Birimberg-Schwartz reported, using organoid technology, researchers can test 120 drugs or drug combinations at a time and then tell the clinician, “This is the drug regimen I recommend you try first.”

What next? A few years down the road, it’s likely that organoids will be used not only for information but also to heal organs. An intestinal organoid, for example, replete with regenerating adult stem cells, maybe re-implanted into a patient, locate the site of a lesion, and repair it.

Organoid technology is clearly racing forward – Find out more in the webinar below:

 


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