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Organoids: Revolutionizing Cancer Modelling and Paving the Way for Advanced Cancer Therapies


Organoids are three-dimensional (3D) cellular structures that closely resemble the organ they are derived from, both in terms of their architecture and function. Organoids can be grown in vitro from various sources, such as adult stem cells (ASCs) or pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), and can self-organize into structures that mimic the complexity and functionality of the native organ. As a result, they can be used for basic research, disease modelling, drug discovery and testing, regenerative medicine and personalized medicine. For these reasons, organoids are considered to be one of the most significant scientific advances of biomedical research, offering significant advantages over traditional cell culture models and opening up new avenues for understanding human biology, disease mechanisms, and therapeutic development.

Researchers from the Centre for Oncology and Immunology (COI) and the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have written a review article in Cell Stem Cell, discussing the potential of organoids for cancer modelling. The article compares the differences between ASC- and PSC-based cancer organoid systems, and highlights their use as preclinical models for studying cancer and developing therapies. The authors detail how these models can inform personalized medical approaches in different organ contexts and contribute to the understanding of early carcinogenic steps, cancer genomes and biology. For example, organoids can be used to study drug responses in individual patients, allowing for more personalized treatment plans. Additionally, organoid-derived xenografts can be used as preclinical models to test new therapies. Finally, the article discusses recent improvements to organoid culture approaches that have helped to make them an even better representation of human tumours. These improvements include the use of co-culture systems to better mimic the tumour microenvironment and the use of single-cell sequencing to better understand tumour heterogeneity. Thus, this review article provides a comprehensive overview of how organoids can be a powerful platform for cancer modelling, enabling researchers to study the complex biology of cancer and develop new therapeutic strategies in a more physiologically relevant context. Dr Helen Yan says, “Harnessing the power of organoids in cancer research allows us to explore the complexities of each patient's tumour, facilitating the development of precision medicine and tailor-made therapies.”

About the authors

The article was written by Prof. Suet Yi Leung and Dr. Helen Yan. Prof. Suet Yi Leung is Co-director of the Centre for Oncology and Immunology, Ltd., Chairperson of the Department of Pathology at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, Chair Professor of Gastrointestinal Cancer Genetics and Genomics (HKU), and Director of the Centre for PanorOmic Sciences (HKU). Dr. Helen Yan is a principal investigator at the Centre for Oncology and Immunology, Ltd. and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong. She had formerly undergone training in the laboratory of the globally acclaimed organoid specialist, Prof. Hans Clevers, where she acquired substantial expertise in producing organoid cultures from patient specimens. In collaboration, Prof. Suet Yi Leung and Dr. Helen Yan have set up and analysed extensive living organoid biobanks of gastric and colorectal cancers. Their research integrates organoid culturing with high-throughput multi-omics and CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing techniques for use in disease modelling, drug screening, and functional characterization of new tumour driver genes in gastrointestinal cancers. Other authors include Dr. April S Chan and Dr. Frank Pui-Ling Lai.

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