Prostate Cancer Researchers Use Organoids to Identify Critical Risk Factors | Cancer Research | Corning

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While almost every type of cancer presents ongoing challenges to researchers, prostate cancer has always been shrouded in particular mystery. The causes of prostate tumor formation are still only partly understood, and the symptoms of this cancer often diverge wildly and resemble those of less serious conditions. Traditional cell culture experiments have failed to produce the insights researchers are searching for, so prostate cancer remains one of the deadliest cancers in the world.

That's why the introduction of widely available prostate organoids has generated so much excitement among researchers and patients. These 3D structures combine multiple cell types to provide a more accurate model of in vivo prostate behavior. Perhaps even more importantly, they can be grown from patient tissue biopsies.

Researchers have a powerful new tool at their disposal, and with it they can now conduct accurate, patient-specific research.

Decades in the Making

Organoids, like the organs they model, are incredibly complex constructions, so researchers must grow them the same way the body does: from stem cells. Years of research slowly derived the sequence of nutrients and growth signals needed to stimulate these prostate stem cells to differentiate and grow. When provided the right environment, the stem cells' evolved genetic programming does the rest.

Given some dedication, this approach can lead to a sequence of spheroids or organoids that collectively represent an organ or a sequence of tissue types. These spheroids and organoids can then be freighted together to create multi-step experimental plates that generate a comprehensive genetic assay quickly enough to allow doctors to prescribe personalized treatment regimens.

This approach yields patient-derived organoids that embody the unique attributes of the cancer growing in each patient. That's a breakthrough every cancer researcher would love to see — and, given the incredible potential of prostate organoids for cancer research, one they very likely will.

The Research Gets Personal

As with most cancers, the main challenge stems from the diversity of diseases under the umbrella of prostate cancer. That's where organoids come in: They enable the quick development of patient-derived cell models that behave much more like in vivo prostate tissue and precisely express the arrangement of oncogenes found in a specific patient or research subject.

This approach has the potential to let researchers get past the sheer variety of prostate cancers by illuminating unusual interactions between oncogenes and see through unusual disease phenotypes to the genotype beneath.

The goal is to devise an organoid-based approach that lets doctors convert tissue biopsies into patient-specific test beds. More than that, the aim is to develop a reliable, systematic regimen of tests that can be applied to the organoid and reveal its specific pattern of oncogene expression.

When paired with concerted research to associate patterns of gene expression with receptivity to treatments, an organoid-based approach can facilitate a personalized treatment regime.

The Next Decade Looks Bright

Prostate cancers are far from the only cancers that can benefit from the organoid approach. Recent progress made using organoids in the study of lung cancer shows promise for application to all kinds of cancer.

With a sizable set of tools to create new organoid models now available to them, researchers can choose the appropriate growth media and get to work. Thanks to quick and affordable whole-genome sequencing and a growing catalog of equipment tailored to organoid research, the use of organoid models in cancer research is getting quicker and better characterized.

The potential to cure prostate cancer would be big enough on its own. But as a model to be applied to a broad spectrum of diseases, the organoid cancer research model becomes even more exciting.