Four papers sketch out the promises and problems of one of medicine’s most exciting new frontiers. 

In a special edition of the journal Science, leading researchers have catalogued stunning breakthroughs in the development of organoids – miniature human organs that are used to mimic disease and test treatments, and might one day provide replacement parts for the sick and elderly.

Perhaps nowhere are those advances more pressing than in cancer research.

David Tuveson, from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, US, and Hans Clevers, from the Oncode and Hubrecht Institutes in Utrecht, Netherlands, set out a series of discoveries that is rapidly changing how that disease is managed.

A major goal in cancer is for treatments that target a patient’s specific tumour type. It’s called “precision medicine” and, until recently, has often meant taking slices of a person’s tumour, trying to grow it in a dish, and adding drugs to see if they kill it. Another way is to transplant the tumour cells into mice and give them the drug.

Each method, however, has serious drawbacks.

First off, tumours don’t grow so well in dishes. And waiting for cancer to develop in mice, then watching to see if a drug is effective, can take months. Patients, tragically, often don’t have that long.

Enter the organoid.

Read the full article at Cosmos magazine here