Understanding how healthy cells transition to cancerous ones is essential for advancing diagnostic tools, prevention strategies, and targeted therapies in cancer care. However, current diagnostic methods provide limited insight into the early stages of these cellular processes within the human body. To address this gap, scientists have developed 2D organoids, which are 2D models of our organs made from cells as well as grown 3D models, which are created from patient samples or mouse models . However, each of these models are inherently limited. While the 2D models are more simple and easy to experiment on, they lack the detailed information that the more expensive but complex 3D systems have.

Recognizing these limitations, researchers developed a novel organoid model of the colon that bridges the gap between existing 2D and 3D models. To do this, they bioengineered a scaffold to serve as a frame for the different cells that would typically make up a real colon. The researchers showed that their model is an anatomical representation of the colon at the cellular level, capable of precisely controlling and tracking any cell mutations that may cause healthy cells to turn cancerous and eventually grow into a solid tumor. This system facilitates the study of biologically complex tumors without having to conduct surgery on cancer patients, providing a seamless platform for investigating cancer initiation.

Notably, the model not only accurately models the behavior of a real colon but also helps researchers identify specific genetic targets that are involved in cancer development. This knowledge is essential for the development of effective anti-tumor drugs and personalized treatment strategies for cancer patients. While mini-colons cannot entirely replace animal models in all cancer research contexts, they offer a promising alternative for many experimental applications due to their practicality.

This study was led by researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Roche Innovation Center Basel with corresponding authors L. Francisco Lorenzo-Martín and Matthias P. Lutolf

Managing Correspondent: Gurminder K. Paink 

Press article: Bioengineered ‘mini-colons’ shed light on cancer progression (Nature)

Original Journal Article: Spatiotemporally resolved colorectal oncogenesis in mini-colons ex vivo (Nature)

Image Credit: Pexels/Emmet

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