What Organoid Models Can Teach Us About Metastasis

VIDEO | 02:22

Go inside the lab of Karuna Ganesh and learn what organoids are, what we can learn from them, and the potential impact they have for cancer patients.

Show transcript

Karuna Ganesh, MD, PhD: Welcome to my lab. So here we take tumors that have been cut out of patients undergoing surgery at our hospital, and we convert them into little three-dimensional mini-tumors that we call organoids that we can use for research. This is Ahmed, a graduate student in my lab. Ahmed, can you tell us what you’ve been doing?

Ahmed Mahmoud, graduate student: So last week, one of your patients had surgery to take out one of his liver tumors, and what I have done is I’ve broken down that tumor into tiny clusters of cells, and I have been growing them into organoids. And right now, I am just checking to see if they’ve grown into organoids.

Karuna Ganesh, MD, PhD: Well, let’s take a look.

Ahmed Mahmoud, graduate student: Absolutely.

Karuna Ganesh, MD, PhD: Aha.

Ahmed Mahmoud, graduate student: They’ve grown very nicely into organoids.

Karuna Ganesh, MD, PhD: Yeah, you can see lots of different sizes and shapes. Let’s zoom in and take a closer look. Wow! As you can see here, you’re seeing these three-dimensional structures, and this is of course exactly what tumors are in patients — they are three-dimensional. And what you can really nicely see is that these tumor cells are grew from the colon from the intestine have formed a little tube-like structure, and so these are sometimes called mini-guts because you can see the tube of the gut. What's really powerful about the organoids is that firstly, we can grow them from lots and lots of different people with relative ease. Over 80% of patient biopsies, even tiny little biopsies, can be grown very, very efficiently and quickly within a period of days to weeks as Ahmed has done here into these organoids, which we could then use to test lots and lots of drugs.

And what’s really powerful about them is as you can see here, in an organoid from a different patient, we can see that these organoids — just like real tumors consist of lots and lots of different types of cells, and they change overtime as they grow, as they regenerate, as they respond to treatment. But often in people, we know how to kill the green cells, the rapidly dividing ones, with chemotherapy and targeted therapy, but we don't know how to kill the cells that are not growing fast, and that’s been really hard to study these dormant cells. But what Ahmed has done here is develop a way to label in the organoid these dormant cells with this pink marker, and we now have a way to study these dormant slow growing cells that can sometimes wake up and kill people, and we can figure out how they do that and how to attack them. And this is what makes organoids really powerful.