Published: November 6, 2015
Science & Tech Correspondent
When we think of mad scientists growing little brains inside flasks, we may immediately jump to the conclusion that a concept this absurd may exclusively subscribe to the realm of science fiction. We would be wrong, for this is exactly what scientists at the University of Melbourne did to create something call an organoid.
To be clear, organoids are nothing more than tiny immature organs grown using a cluster of induced pluripotent cells, a type of stem cell that can be generated from adult cells. Unfortunately these organs will never mature into full sized organs because they lack the blood vessels to provide them with a sufficient amount of oxygen and nutrients. The development of a method to induce angiogenesis is the next step.
So then we have to wonder: what kind of potential do organoids have to offer to the medical community? Well, already, even organoids have provided the medical community with new insights of how healthy organs develop, and therefore help identify in very fine detail developmental problems, test new drugs and even advance in cancer treatments.
In order to create certain organs, scientists take the IPS cells from a person and provide them with a particular culture or environment so that they may develop into whichever organs scientists wish to study (different organs require different modifications and environments).
This has been done prominently to create human brains in order to study how a healthy brain, or parts of a brain, would develop. This means that we can now study our biology in action outside of a patient’s body. Scientists have already been able to acquire new insights on developmental disorders that result in conditions such as epilepsy, autism and Parkinson’s disease.
Moreover, in the past there have been issues of riskiness and even unethical behavior concerning the testing of new drugs, but organoids have simplified this. Now that scientists can just create whichever organs they wish to do tests on, they need not worry about finding test subjects and all of the moral issues that come with it. This particular attribute was especially useful when scientists realized that this was a perfect way to revolutionize cancer research through the creation of tumeroids.
Tumeroids are like organoids, but instead of creating an organ, scientists and researchers create and mimick the types of cancers different people have by removing a sample and growing it the same way they would an organoid. Most of the time, researchers find that they are able to successfully mimic how mutations in different people’s cancers behave. Researchers are able to apply a variety of treatments to the tumeroids and find which one is most effective in treating the specific type of cancer and causing minimal harm to the patients themselves.
This is a huge step in the right direction for stem cell research and with any luck researchers and scientists will one day be able to create entire organs for those in need.
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