One of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in stem cell research of the past decade is the development of organoid technology. It allows researchers to generate ‘mini organs’ in a dish to study fundamental biological processes in health and disease. The technology finds new uses every day. In Utrecht the technology has also entered the clinical arena, where organoid-based tests are starting to be used for personalised treatment. See also the special newsletter about organoids made by Utrecht Life Sciences.

It started with colon cancer

Organoids are 3D mini organs that carry the same genetic information as the patient and allow us to study the cellular behavior of the patient’s tissue in the lab. There are potentially as many types of organoids as there are different tissues and organs in the body. To date, researchers have been able to produce organoids that resemble the intestine, brain, kidney, lung, stomach, and liver, and many more are on the way.
The Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology aims to fully exploit organoid technology. To this end Onno Kranenburg (Professor of Surgical and Translational Tumor Biology, Cancer Center UMC Utrecht) and Madelon Maurice (Professor of Molecular Cell Biology, UMC Utrecht), co-chairs of the Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology, will provide researchers and physicians in Utrecht with a stable framework for rapid and standardized tissue acquisition and processing.
Kranenburg explains how it once started. “In 2010 the need arose to culture colorectal tumor cells from a large amount of patients. When the first protocol was published by Sato et al (2011), we actually started to do that on a project basis. Most of the time we did this in collaboration with the research group of Hans Clevers. Our group arranged the logistics with regard to obtaining the actual tissue."

Standardized procedures

"Scientists increasingly make use of organoids, based on many different research questions", adds Maurice. "In the near future we will be able to produce many more organoids. Protocols have been optimized for that. Obviously, they are constantly being developed, but more and more researchers apply it to their research." This is also how Maurice got involved. "My research group wants to know how those cells communicate with each other in tissue and what goes wrong in cancer. It is more than great to be able to view this now in a petri dish. It is such a wonderful time to do research now."
According to Kranenburg, developing new procedures, standardizing them and making them accessible for researchers and physicians, is exactly what the Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology stands for. "When a patient visits the hospital, there must be someone who links that patient to one of the research projects affiliated to the Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology. This can be research on breast cancer, or colon cancer, it can be anything. And someone needs to talk to that patient as well. This is where our research coordinator Anneta Brousali steps in. Finally, the patient must consent on donating tissue for research. From the moment that the operation takes place, we need to make sure the tissue goes directly to pathology. The pathology department must be informed that the tissue will arrive and that we get our part for our research projects. After this, it will be handed over to the researchers involved.

Tailor made treatments

Many different teams of specialists, from surgeons to nurses to pathologists to radiologists to oncologists to researchers, are involved. "Throughout the years we've designed and implemented a pipeline for professional tissue acquisition and processing. With the Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology we offer researchers and physicians in Utrecht a stable framework that makes things possible. In the end, by organizing all these processes in a smart way, we can offer tailor made treatments to patients in Utrecht with a variety of diseases", concludes Kranenburg.

The Utrecht Platform for Organoid Technology will soon launch a website to inform researchers and physicians about the framework in more detail.