Library of mini organs reducing the need for animal testing

CSIRO researchers have teamed up with the Lyell McEwin Hospital in Adelaide to create a library of organoids, or mini organs, to advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancers.

An organoid – grown from human tissue taken during colonoscopies and endoscopies (with consent) – is a 3-dimensional structure that acts like a “mini organ”, a tiny model of a colon measuring mere microns in size.

Dr Kim Fung, a Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO, says the biobank of these models was grown from around 150 patients, for use in pre-clinical testing. 

The novel technology offers an alternative non-animal model for pre-clinical trials that can reduce the costs, timeframes and failure rates compared with testing in animals like mice.

In Australia, more than 700,000 laboratory mice and 30,000 rats are used in scientific and medical research annually in states that publicly report statistics (VictoriaNew South Wales and Tasmania). When other states are accounted for, the national total likely exceeds 1 million rodents, animal welfare advocates say. 

The organoid library is one example of the global shift towards non-animal models in medical product development, a trend which presents new opportunities for Australia, according to a new CSIRO strategy.

Kim copy
Dr Kim Fung / Supplied

Fung says because the organoids in the biobank come directly from humans, their responses to treatments and approaches provide a closer representation of the real patient population.

Drugs or treatments can be tested across a wide range of organoids. Each one reflects a different patient’s clinical information and genetics, and a range of disease variants, enabling researchers to test what drugs or treatments would reduce the growth in adenomas or cancers, or kill them altogether.

“Animal models don’t accurately reflect what’s happening in a person,” she says.

Reducing the failure rate is crucial because following the pre-clinical phase, drugs usually move into much to larger trials involving thousands of people. 

“It takes 7 to 10 years or even longer to get one drug through regulatory approvals. And what we’re looking to do is shorten that.”

More reliable, faster and cost-effective pre-clinical trials using organoids will be important in preventing and treating colorectal cancer, one of the most commonly diagnosed and deadly cancers in Australia, according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics.

Fung says, with the United States and Europe now shifting towards these types of non-animal models in drug development, organoid research is important to bring Australia in line with what is happening overseas.

“We’ve got such a strong clinical trials ecosystem in Australia,” Fung says. Developing Australia’s non-animal capabilities will help the country be competitive with what’s happening in bigger markets in the US and Europe.

Subscribe to ultramarine from riaus

Do you care about the oceans? Are you interested in scientific developments that affect them? Then our email newsletter Ultramarine is for you. Click here to become a subscriber.

Please login to favourite this article.