Scientists go with their gut

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MONASH BIOMEDICINE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE

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Tiny 3D organs could help doctors tackle colorectal cancer more effectively than ever before. A biobank of “mini-gut” organoids, grown at the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI), is set to help scientists understand the evolution of cancer growth, test new drugs and, eventually, take the guesswork out of treating cancer.

With cancer claiming millions of lives each year, researchers are racing to find better treatments which are tougher on cancer and gentler on patients. Researchers at the Monash BDI have a fresh approach – to test new drugs on 3D models of colorectal cancers grown in a dish.

These organoids may not look anything like the real thing, but contain the same biological signatures which make them suitable for studying cancer behaviour.

So far, scientists at the Monash BDI biobank have grown over 30 organoids from tissue collected from colorectal cancer patients at the Cabrini Hospital in Melbourne. Surgeons extracted cancerous tissue from patients’ bowels during surgery and cells from this tissue were cultured in a way to form 3D organoids a few millimetres in diameter.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Helen Abud aims to build this collection to over 100 organoids to comprehensively study how different tumours grow and what can be done to stop their spread.

The eventual aim is that one day, instead of trialling different cancer drugs on a patient, doctors could grow an organoid from a patient’s tumour biopsy. Testing the organoid first could allow doctors to determine the most effective drug for destroying a patient’s cancer instead of administering a trial-and-error regiment.

“It is the ultimate in personalised medicine,” said Abud.

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Associate Professor Helen Abud at the Monash BDI

And the scientists have their sights set beyond colorectal cancer.

“This is exciting research with real life implications for patients, and is also being extended to study patients with prostate and breast cancer,” the Institute’s Director Professor John Carroll said.

“The organoid research exemplifies what the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute is about: taking early discovery research, utilising an array of scientists with different skill sets, and taking the research all the way through to the clinic and assisting in patient care.”

The Monash BDI was launched by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the 14th of November, 2016.

The Monash/Cabrini team are members of the Australian Living Organoid Alliance, a national network of scientists and clinicians who study tumour organoids.

For more information on the organoid biobank, see the Monash BDI press release or the news story in the Herald Sun.

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams, supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, who partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.