Scientists have long used cell and animal models to study human disease because of the practical, ethical and financial challenges of using human models.
But as the failure to translate effective therapies from cell and mouse models into humans has demonstrated, the need remains for models that more closely replicate human tissue.
That need is now being met with the development of three-dimensional, patient-derived, cell-cultures-in-a-dish that mimic human tissue. These mini-organs, called “organoids,” allow scientists to study disease mechanisms and progression, predict patient-specific drug treatment outcomes and efficiently screen for new drug therapies.
Another exciting potential application is the ability to replace lost or damaged tissue, even to create new organs. Such renewable tissue would reduce or eliminate the need for organ transplants.
But here’s the catch: making these complex structures requires hands-on instruction from an experienced researcher: it can’t be learned from laboratory protocols.
Course offers extensive laboratory training
The MDI Biological Laboratory’s Applications of Organoid Technology course, held in May for the second consecutive year, is the only course in the world offering extensive laboratory training in making organoids.
“Our course is called ‘Applications of Organoid Technology’ for a reason,” said course director Hugo de Jonge, Ph.D., a professor at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and a visiting scientist at the MDI Biological Laboratory, “Though scientists can read about organoid technology in journals, it’s a big step from theoretical knowledge to making organoids in the lab. We are bridging that gap.”
The course is also the only external course taught by representatives of Hubrecht Organoid Technology (HUB), a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands that was founded on the pioneering research of Hans Clevers, M.D., Ph.D., the first to discover techniques to grow organoids from adult stem cells (ASCs) harvested from the epithelial tissue of patients with various diseases.
“Learning from the people who developed the technology is the best scenario – they are the ones who are familiar with the fine details,” said Nitin Sabherwal, Ph.D., a postdoctoral student at The University of Manchester in England who is planning to use organoids to study breast cancer. “In the MDI Biological Laboratory course, we are learning directly from the lab that developed the technology. What could be better?”
The course drew 22 students from medical schools, research institutions and private corporations in nine countries. The participants worked with organoids supplied by the organoid biobank at HUB, including those from patients with cystic fibrosis and various types of cancer.