You may have heard of organoids. Over the last few years, they have emerged, in the scientific literature and in the media, as attractive new platforms with the potential to significantly advance regenerative medicine. Such a claim isn’t novel, though organoids have accolades to back it up: a growing body of scientific literature and being named by The Scientist magazine as one of the biggest scientific advancements of 2013.
What is an organoid? In simple terms, it is a three-dimensional tissue structure made up of cells an cellular material that resembles the in vivo tissue or organ from which it originates. In more precise terms, it is an in vitro culture system that allows for the stable expansion of cells that faithfully represent in vivo cells.
Labs around the world have generated large collections of patient organoids from a variety of organs and diseases, which are used to study many diseases including various cancers and further contribute to the scientific community’s understanding of disease bases.
Outside of cells, organoids also include an extracellular matrix components (such as growth factors), which are useful in supporting the expansion and differentiation of organoid stem cells into tissue-specific cells.
A recent review published in Nature Reviews Nephrology gives a thorough overview of the current state-of-the-art in organoid cultures based on adult stem and progenitor cells and highlights areas that have lagged behind in terms of therapeutic utility – the kidney being one of them.
Exciting new developments in the field include developing culture parameters to establish optimal 3D environments to support organoid formation and growth (see this recent paper in Biomaterials Science). These systems include recombinant ECM components to improve the biomechanical responses of such cultures. These are selected on the basis of cell proliferation and differentiation and are usually modeled after in vivo requirements.
We will be looking more closely at organoids in future blog entries as we follow and support further developments in this area by the development of 3D cell culture substrates as well as extracellular matrix components to aid stem cell proliferation.