Jatin Roper is a gastroenterologist who works in the laboratory of Omer Yilmaz, an Assistant Professor of Biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). An image Roper submitted to the Koch Awards at MIT is described here in the latest video highlighting the winners.
This lab studies how factors like obesity and aging influence tumor growth in colorectal cancer, the third most common cause of cancer death. While there are mouse models they can use for their work, there are limitations to using them; they don't accurately represent disease in humans patients and they are time consuming to work with.
As a solution to these problems, the researchers created organoids - cells in 3D culture. These cells also aren't perfect representations of disease; they lack the surrounding intestinal environment. The scientists found a way to combine these two models. The result is shown in the winning microscopy image; a mouse colon is seen containing transplanted organoids - in pink - that have grown into the colon. These cells are fully functional in the new mouse colon.
This new methodology enables previously impossible experiments. The team plans to use CRISPR gene editing both in the colon and organoids to investigate the role various genes play in tumor development, to analyze how obesity affects normal tissue and causes cancer, and to understand the pathways involved. Hopefully this knowledge translates into improvements for patient therapy.