Conference Coverage

‘Organoid technology’ poised to transform cancer care



– Imagine being able to biopsy a tumor and grow it in a lab.

The implications are nearly endless. To start, chemotherapy and radiation options could be screened in vitro, much like culture and sensitivity testing of bacteria, to find a patient’s best option. Tumor cultures could be banked for mass screening of new cytotoxic candidates.

It’s already beginning to happen in a few research labs around the world, and it might foretell a breakthrough in cancer treatment.

After decades of failure, the trick to growing tumor cells in culture has finally been figured out. When stem cells are fished out of healthy tissue – from the crypts of the gastrointestinal lining, for instance – and put into a three-dimensional matrix culture with growth factors, they grow into little replications of the organs they came from, called “organoids;” when stem cells are pulled from cancers, they replicate the primary tumor, growing into “tumoroids” ready to be tested against cytotoxic drugs and radiation.

Philip B. Paty, MD, FACS, a colorectal surgeon and organoid researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, said he is certain that the person who led the team that figured out the right culture condition – Hans Clevers, MD, PhD, a molecular genetics professor at the University of Utrecht (the Netherlands) – is destined for a Nobel Prize.

Dr. Paty took a few minutes at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons to explain in an interview why, and what ‘organoid technology’ will likely mean for cancer treatment in a few years.

“The ability to grow and sustain cancer means that we now can start doing real science on human tissues. We could never do this before. We’ve been treating cancer without being able to grow tumors and study them.” The breakthrough opens the door to “clinical trials in a dish,” and will likely take personalized cancer treatment to a new level, he said.

“It remains to be proven that “organoid technology “can change outcomes for patients, but those studies are likely coming,” said Dr. Paty, who investigates tumoroid response to radiation in his own lab work.

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