DEC 11, 2019 9:36 AM PST

New 3-in-1 organ in a dish set to elevate research and diagnostics

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

In trying to understand complex phenomena in the human body, researchers usually have to turn to oversimplified biological models. Amongst the easiest to use research tools are single layers of human cells, grown in a cocktail of chemicals made to mimic the cells’ natural environment. 

In a living organism, however, cells do not exist in isolation but instead, are linked by intricate networks of tissue and organ systems. From a technical standpoint, these structures are incredibly challenging to reproduce in a laboratory setting.

In a world first, researchers based at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) have developed a method for turning stem cells into 3-dimensional models of not one, but three interconnected organs: the liver, bile duct, and pancreas.

The research, led by Assistant Professor at the Department of Pediatrics, Takanori Takebe, was published in the journal, Nature.

These miniature versions of organs, known as organoids, are a breakthrough for researchers. For one, they enable them to study how the liver and surrounding organs form during embryonic development. Moreover, they pave the way for next-generation diagnostic platforms and, in the future, even on-demand lab-grown organs for transplantation.

The method as described by Takebe’s team involves harvesting adult skin cells, reverting them to a stem cell-like state and then growing groups of cells in spheroids. These clumps of cells are akin to embryonic tissues in the first month of gestation. 

When placed in a specially concocted gel medium at a precise time point of their growth, contact between the spheres triggers a flurry of molecular cascades. These orchestrate the formation of the distinctive liver, bile duct, and pancreatic tissues, as illustrated in the video.

 

 

Despite being tiny, relatively simplified versions of the actual organs, the organoids were found to be remarkably functional for something created under laboratory conditions -- with the pancreas even secreting digestive enzymes through its miniature ducts.

For Takebe, this accomplishment is the result of many years of hard work and dedication. Having graduated from medical school in 2011, Takebe was one of the youngest recorded professors in Japan at the age of just 26. His previous work centered around creating organoids representing both the early stages of fetal liver development and inflammatory liver disease.

Discover Magazine ranked Takebe’s early findings Number 5 in their list of the top 100 scientific innovations of 2013.

Speaking on the impact of his most recent work with organoids, Takebe explains, "The work here shows that it is possible to create such a system using human pluripotent stem cells. This is quite exciting, as it lends credibility to the idea that stem cells might be used to make personalized models to study how organs form and how genetic mutations lead to organ malfunction."

 

Sources: EurekAlert!, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
FEB 25, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Better Way to Triage COVID Patients
FEB 25, 2021
A Better Way to Triage COVID Patients
Australian researchers have developed a COVID-19 triaging tool that serves as a crystal ball for healthcare workers. Onc ...
MAR 09, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
AI Creates Space for Equality in Pain Management
MAR 09, 2021
AI Creates Space for Equality in Pain Management
Pain is experienced more intensely among certain groups of people. Indeed, studies have shown that individuals from mino ...
MAY 09, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Another Neurodevelopmental Disorder is Discovered
MAY 09, 2021
Another Neurodevelopmental Disorder is Discovered
Researchers are identifying more rare disorders because of advances in genetic sequencing technologies, which have made ...
MAY 20, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Ovarian Cancer Screening More Beneficial for Early Cancer Detection
MAY 20, 2021
Ovarian Cancer Screening More Beneficial for Early Cancer Detection
A UK-based research study has shown that while ovarian cancer screening is beneficial for detecting cancers earlier, it ...
MAY 26, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Connecting Bacterial Genes to Human Disease
MAY 26, 2021
Connecting Bacterial Genes to Human Disease
This kind of research gets us closer to using fecal samples to get a snapshot of the microbiome, and make disease risk p ...
JUL 04, 2021
Microbiology
Standard Methods Aren't Revealing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Cattle
JUL 04, 2021
Standard Methods Aren't Revealing Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Cattle
Antibiotic resistant bacteria pose a potentially serious threat to public health. There are a variety of ways that peopl ...
Loading Comments...