Organoids Are Us was the name Professor Elizabeth Vincan coined for the inaugural symposium on organoids at the Doherty Institute in 2018, which adequately depicts the technology that is transforming science and medicine.
Organoids are lab-grown miniature models of organs, established from healthy human tissues.
“The real advance is that the organoids we grow recapitulate, meaning they have all the essential features of normal tissues,” explains Professor Vincan, who has been driving the use of this technology in Australia.
“It means we can do things in a petri dish that you can’t possibly do any other way. It bridges the gap between animal models and humans. The organoids can also be infected with viruses and bacteria.”
Professor Vincan and her team work on how cells communicate with each other.
“They communicate via various molecules, and one of these is what we call the Wnt signalling pathway. It plays a key role during embryonic development and is also maintained in the adult for tissue repair and regeneration,” explains Professor Vincan.
Professor Vincan and her team discovered the cell surface receptor that receives this critical Wnt signal in stem cells, called Frizzled 7. In the context of cancer, the cancer cells hijack this receptor, causing it to spread and form tumours in other organs.
It was through a collaboration with Professor Hans Clevers, a global pioneer in organoid research from the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands, that commenced Professor Vincan’s foray into the technology almost 10 years ago.
The Organoids Are Us symposium she convened in 2018 drew 400 delegates from across Australia and many internationals.
“We put the message out there that this technology needs to be embraced. Now researchers are using it across the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct, Monash University and all over Australia.”
Researchers throughout the world have developed organoids from a vast array of organs, including the gut, stomach, liver, brain and kidneys to understand how tissues develop and repair.
They’re also growing organoids from diseased tissues, like cancers, which provides revolutionary ability to test drugs.
Professor Vincan is also determined to bring organoids into the public health domain for research and diagnostics.
“Because organoids are human, they can grow viruses, so the potential is enormous for anti-viral screening, drug toxicity, the works. There are several groups across the Doherty Institute now infecting liver organoids with hepatitis B, for example.”