Organoids Are the Future of Personalized Medicine
Model organisms such as mice, fruit flies, and aplysia have been used by scientists for decades to perform studies considered unethical to perform on human patients. Experiments on these organisms have been instrumental in saving the lives of countless people yet there remain limitations to their usage.
Certain diseases like glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer, manifest themselves uniquely across various species. Glioblastoma tumors behave differently in humans than they do in mice.
Organoids are miniscule, lab-grown organs derived from human stem cells. Because of their direct link to the patient’s own genetic material, organoids can open doors to more personalized treatment options.
Dr. Maximilian Reichert and Dr. Richard Burkhart are currently using pancreas organoids to investigate the effects of cancer therapies on pancreatic tumors. By creating an organoid bank, they can search for biomarkers in the tumors of individual patients.
Burkhart explained that “it’s an idea that we have had for a while, but now with organoids, we are able to do it in a quick enough fashion that it becomes realistic to move things into the clinic.”
The development of brain organoids are predicted to be enormously helpful in not only glioblastoma research but also schizophrenia, autism, and Alzheimer’s research.
Despite being at most 4mm wide, brain organoids are just as complex as actual human brains, possessing differentiated neurons and glial cells. Observations of neuronal migration and dendritic spinogenesis additionally suggest that organoids mimic “higher-order functions of the human brain,” according to Paola Arlotta of Harvard Stem Cell Institute.
In the presence of glioblastoma, model organoid tumors strongly resemble patient tumors. They “mimic how far and how fast” the actual patient’s cancer grows, says Dr. Howard Fine from Cornell University.
Organoids additionally allow researchers to screen cancer drugs and receive fairly accurate predictions of their effectiveness before their administration.
Diseases like glioblastoma that are notoriously difficult to cure may now be more effectively countered with organoid-tested therapies tailored for the patient.