Attack of the Killer Organoids!!!!

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When I was a kid in the Eighties, it would not have been too much of a stretch to imagine myself waiting in line to watch “Attack of the Killer Organoids.” I mean, I have vivid memories of movies where tomatoes roll around town wiping people out (which, by the way, is terrifying for a small Italian kid surrounded by tomatoes).  So, who’s to say an organoid movie wouldn’t be a cult hit? It could have all the makings of a horror classic: Cells coming together in a lab, aggregating and communicating, growing into unpredictable, pulsating masses, acquiring intelligence, and finally gaining their freedom from their pink fluid-filled jails by brute force and the kind of resentment-fueled dreams of freedom one can only acquire from growing up in a lab.  And, they start eating people.  

But these days, I’d definitely wait for it to be released on my home-streaming service of choice. That’s not to say that I’ve lost interest.  Quite the contrary. I have been watching with ratcheting levels of amazement as the 3D culture world has evolved, from the first reports of neurospheres to the current strategies using organoids to develop tomorrow’s cures and study how cells communicate with each other.

Most of us who learned how to culture cells learned to do it in dishes, plates, or flasks by growing them as a 2 dimensional “lawn” of cells: A single layer of cells spread across the surface of the dish.  Then we had to wrap our heads around the fact that the clumps of cells on top of the layer of fibroblasts in our ES cultures were actually good things and were necessary (among other things, for example LIF) to keep those cells pluripotent. Now, we find ourselves watching people like you, dear scientist, push the envelope in the pursuit of discovery by growing organoids and spheroids from stem and progenitor cells.

These organoids are offering insight into these organ systems and helping to answer questions we would normally need to go in vivo to answer. Let’s look at brain organoids, for example. Imagine that you’re developing a new drug for, say, high blood pressure and there’s some indication that it may be a neurotoxin, or that it has shown to cross the blood-brain barrier. You must investigate this before you push this potential drug through the pipeline toward your local pharmacy.  And here’s where your ability to grow a brain in a dish comes in handy. You may decide to do something like this:

  1. Get some stem cells and drive their differentiation into neural stem and progenitor cells in 3D cultures. See your local Gemini rep for the media, supplements, growth factors, or cytokines you need, whether it’s NeuroPlex™ Serum-Free Neuronal Medium, Gem21 NeuroPlex™ Serum-Free Supplement, FGF2, EGF, or any other yummy goodness you want your cells to have (Come on, man. You knew that was coming. I’m just doing my job).
  2. Maintain these cells in suspension culture in your favorite low attachment vessel and watch ‘em grow!
  3. Take your compound of interest, do some math and run some in vitro tox assays by adding it to your cultures.
  4. Analyze for cell death markers, and any other marker of interest.
  5. Sit back in your chair and think about how amazing 3D culture is and how much money you saved by switching to G…..er… 3D culture systems.

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