Biotechnology is a field that is developing continuously at a rapid pace. One of the recent innovations of significant biomedical interest is organoids. Organoids are cell-based 3-dimensional models that are produced in vitro from stem cells. Since they are essentially miniature organs, they can mimic the key functional and structural aspects of the organs. It is a relatively new field of study, with the modern technique of developing organoids from stem cells developed in the 2010s.
(Section of a brain organoid, after three months of culture)
In order to understand organoids and how they are produced, it is essential to first establish an understanding of distinct cells known as “stem cells”. Stem cells are defined as undifferentiated cells that have the ability to differentiate into various types of cells. They are the cells that all specialized cells in our body are differentiated from. Some examples of specialized cells in the human body include red blood cells, neurons, and muscle cells. Of the multiple types of stem cells, organoids are typically produced from pluripotent stem cells, which can differentiate into any type of cell found in the human body. Embryonic stem cells, collected from blastocysts, an early-stage pre-implantation embryo, are commonly used. The types of specialized cells that the stem cells differentiate into are determined by the condition surrounding the cells, and the basis of organoid production derives from the idea that intentionally altering the conditions can produce distinct target tissues.
At this point, one might wonder what the implications of the technology might be. Organoids have received so much attention due to their many potential applications, one of which is that organoids can help advance our understanding of human biology. Most of our current knowledge regarding embryonic development in humans was derived from observing animal models and extrapolating the knowledge to human biology. It is especially helpful in enhancing our understanding of human brain development and studying complex human diseases, such as autism spectrum disorder. Recent research on the topic includes the use of organoids to study how the Zika virus hinders normal brain development by inducing the premature differentiation of cells. Organoids can also aid in the production of personalized medicine for individual patients. Since organoids can be constructed from each individual’s cells, they can be studied by doctors before applying medicine to predict how the patient might react to the therapeutics. Thus more targeted and effective therapies can be selected to treat patients, ensuring safety as well as efficiency. In addition, the development of organoids has the potential to make a breakthrough in the field of drug discovery. Since organoids are 3-dimensional models for organs in the human body, they represent the responses of the human body more realistically than the traditional animal testing or flat cultures developed on dishes. Therefore they can be used to test for toxicity or unexpected side effects of drug uses to enhance the safety of the drugs. The method would also decrease the cost and speed up the process of drug development.
However, despite such wonderful implications of the intriguing technology, challenges still exist. Organoids, however intricate they may seem, still lack the complexity of real organs, and cannot show the complicated interactions between organs in the actual human body. Current research attempts to combat this problem with ongoing efforts to improve the sophistication of organoids to make them more physiologically accurate.
Organoids represent one of the most significant breakthroughs in modern biomedical research, with their ability to mimic organ functions and model diseases. With further research, they show promise to expand our knowledge of human embryonic development, produce personalized medicine, and revolutionize the field of drug discovery. Within the near future, organoids are poised to become an essential tool in the war against diseases.
Jeehan (Jacob) Shin
Leader of LSBT Society