How Growing Tumor “Organoids” Could Speed Cancer Treatment


While there is a general classification based on the area affected along with standard treatments for each of these cases, cancer is actually a disease individually unique to every patient. Tumors will present some similar mutations and generally evolve in the same way, but treatments have varying efficiency for different patients.

Because of natural limitations, including time constraints and health concerns, doctors cannot just test several options and then pick the best one. And yet this is the avenue UCLA researchers are currently pursuing. “What if we could go back and tell the doctor, ‘Hey this combination of therapies worked really well for this specific patient?’”, asked herself biologist Alice Soragni.


Together with her team, Dr. Soragni devised an approach to collect cancer cells from patients and grow them into 3D mini tumors, or organoids, allowing for quick screenings of large numbers of potential drugs. For a boy with a rare bone cancer, they managed to test 430 compounds in a relatively short amount of time. Eight of them caused 75 percent cell death in the mini tumors — and those included cancer drugs not typically considered for his type of cancer.

It makes sense to test cancer drugs on cancer cells outside the body first, before selecting the best one to be given to the patient,” noted Hans Clevers, an organoid pioneer at the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Netherlands.

Initially, the method was used for various kinds of ovarian cancer and then expanded for sarcomas — a rare group of particularly hard-to-treat cancers that develop within bones or connective tissue and often spread to the lungs.

Another advantage is that organoid screens can also detect tumors that won’t respond to conventional therapy. This can prove significantly helpful for people with recurring metastases, where there is a risk that treatments might actually cause more harm from the increased toxicity than good.

The high-speed, high-volume method is