Organoids Are Us

Organoids Are Us was a one-day symposium to highlight the game-changing advances to science and medicine that are the direct result of more than 30 years of fundamental research into the Wnt signalling pathway.

Wnt signalling is an ancient cell-cell communication pathway that is conserved though evolution and tells the cells of our body what to be, where to go and what to do. It plays an important role during embryonic development and maintains normal tissue function in the adult.

However, inappropriate activation of the pathway leads to diverse human diseases including cancer.

Leaders in the Wnt field delivered talks on advances in stem cell (Dr Karl Willert, Professor Nick Barker and Professor Arial Zeng) and cancer (Professor David Virshup and Dr Ram Dasgupta) fields.

A game-changing advance spawned by the Wnt field is organoid technology – more specifically, tissue-restricted adult stem cell derived organoids.

This advance was led by the Clevers Group from the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in the Netherlands, who worked out a way to coerce adult tissue stem cells to make tissue cells in a dish.

These mini-replicas of tissues, termed ‘organoids’, meaning “organ-like”, can be readily manipulated, genetically or pharmacologically, to understand what makes a stem cell be a stem cell, and what changes occur in a normal stem cell to make them become cancer cells.

Furthermore, organoids can be established from patient-derived tumours for anti-cancer drug pre-screening. The response of the tumour organoids to drug treatment matches the response of the patient to therapy.

The new frontier for organoid technology is organoids as models of infectious disease. The organoids faithfully recapitulate the key features and function of the intact tissue e.g. cell types present and tissue architecture, making them innovative models of natural infection, enabling the study of diverse human viruses that until now lacked suitable cell culture or animal models.

The symposium was attended by 400 delegates from diverse backgrounds and was generously sponsored by STEMCELL Technologies, Perkin Elmer, Geneworks, Thermo Fisher Scientific and VIDRL.

The event was also supported by the efforts of Susan Northfield (University of Melbourne’s Therapeutic Technologies Research Initiative), Patricia Gigliuto and Helen Braybrook (Centre for Stem Cell Systems) Finian Scallan (Doherty Institute); and Jean Moselen, Renate Schwab and Bang Tran (Vincan Laboratory, Doherty Institute).

Symposium organisers, the Doherty Institute’s Professor Elizabeth Vincan and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute’s Dr Maree Faux were extremely happy with the success of the event.