You know organoids, right? These are miniature, laboratory-grown organs that mimic the structure and function of real organs. These three-dimensional biological structures are made from stem cells and have the characteristic of being capable of developing into complex tissues resembling human organs. In a word: self-organizing.
What are organoids used for? Well, a bunch of things. First, to study organ-specific functions, developmental processes and pathological mechanisms, making it possible to understand complex biological systems in a way that was simply not possible before. Due to the properties they have, organoids are a really interesting tool for scientific research.
Organoids: scale replicas of human functions and structures
Organoids can "recapitulate" some specific functions of the studied organ. For example, cardiac ones can contract, brain ones can exhibit neural activity. For each organ, they have multiple specific cell types that interact with each other. Finally, they are scalable. In what sense? You can grow them in different shapes and sizes, from tiny spheres to larger, more complex structures – it depends on your desired research goals.
What do we do? Even more: what will we do with it? Disease modeling. Organoids can be used to create disease models that accurately reflect the physiological and pathological conditions of specific organs. Facilities that allow researchers to study disease mechanisms more realistically and accurately. For example, organoids have been used to study the effects of drugs on the liver and to test new therapies for cystic fibrosis.
A major boost to 'personalised' medicine
By creating organoids from patient-specific stem cells, doctors and researchers can study each individual's unique disease biology. From there, they can then develop personalized treatment strategies. For example, organoids have been used to study the effects of chemotherapy on ovarian cancer. Or to identify new treatments for colorectal cancer.
Compared to cell lines that have been immortalized, organoids are believed to be superior in replicating the three-dimensional structure, diversity and cellular functions of primary tissues. Consequently, they are more physiologically relevant for modeling human diseases and predicting drug reactions.
Ultimately, as our understanding of stem cell biology and tissue engineering continues to advance, organoids are likely to play an increasingly important role. These little giants will shape the future of medicine.