Organoids: A Promising Platform to Understand Biology and Medicine

Posted by Janice on July 2nd, 2021

With the increasing number of people who suffer from organ failures and the growing need for available organs for transplant, finding a new way to provide organs and therapeutic options to transplant patients is a critical need. However, the supply of organs available for transplantation is already far smaller than the demand, and the demand is likely to grow substantially in the near future. The advent of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine (TERM) has given scientists and clinicians the opportunity to develop full-sized and functional organs for transplantation. Over the past few decades, new therapeutic approaches for the regeneration or replacement of tissues and organs have been investigated.

Organoids can help humans better understand biological development and help humans cure diseases. As early as 1907, Henry Van Peters Wilson described the first attempt of in vitro organism regeneration, by demonstrating that dissociated sponge cells can self-organize to regenerate a whole organism. In the decades that followed, many laboratories experimented with creating various organs, mainly in amphibians and chicken embryos. With the continuous development of organoid culture system and its experimental organ development technology, organoid has been applied to various research fields. So far, organoid culture has been used in a variety of tissues, including the intestine, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney, prostate, lung, retina, and brain. The ability of organoids to better mimic the environment in vivo undoubtedly provides a better solution for oncology research, drug screening, regenerative medicine and other fields at the animal and cellular levels.

Researchers have thought for a long time that stem cells could help promote organ development, because these stem cells have the ability to go into a specific organ. Recently, researchers at the University of Maryland (UMD) showed for the first time that newly established stem cells from pigs, when injected into embryos, contributed to the development of only the organ of interest (the embryonic gut and liver), laying the groundwork for stem cell therapeutics and organ transplantation.

In addition, three-dimensional (3D) organoids derived from pluripotent stem cells seem to possess excellent potential for studying development and disease mechanisms, as well as having a myriad of applications in regenerative therapies. Scientists at the University of Minnesota have 3D printed a functioning centimeter-scale human heart pump in the lab. The discovery could have a significant impact on the study of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing more than 600,000 people a year.

Besides, researchers at the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), have used cutting-edge technology to bioprint miniature human kidneys in the lab, paving the way for new treatments for kidney failure and possibly lab-grown transplants. The team also validated the use of 3D bioprinted human mini kidneys for screening of drug toxicity from a class of drugs known to cause kidney damage in humans. One of the goals of the study is to screen drugs to find new treatments for kidney disease or to test if a new drug was likely to injure the kidney. Because drug-induced injury to the kidney is a major side effect and difficult to predict from animal studies.

The field of organoids is growing exponentially and has the potential to serve as an excellent platform for understanding human biology and treating disease. However, as with any new model, the development of organoid is accompanied by bottlenecks and pitfalls, so scientists should ensure that each experiment is rigorously validated in other model systems to reach reliable conclusions.

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Joined: April 28th, 2021
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