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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Unleashing 3D

The last 10 years have seen a dramatic surge in the number of publications about organoids – but what are they and why is everyone talking about them? In simple terms, they are miniature organs grown in vitro in a near-physiological 3D environment. Unlike simple tissue cultures, they retain features of the organ they are derived from, including important structural and functional properties, and many believe that they could dramatically accelerate the understanding of human biology and disease progression.

Traditional 2D cell culture has brought great progress in understanding human development over the last 50 years. However, studying organogenesis in vitro has been hindered by the lack of appropriate systems that would allow the cell-to-cell interactions needed for organ formation. Organoids provide the accurate and physiologically relevant models that are needed to overcome this deficiency.

So-called organoids have now been derived from gut, kidney, pancreas, liver and brain tissue, and growing these mini-organs has been made possible by the recent advances in stem cell systems and the development of 3D support matrices. Thanks to this new technology, cells derived from stem cells or organ progenitors can self-organise through cell sorting and recapitulate the complexity of mammalian organogenesis in vitro in a way that is similar to how they do in vivo.

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Dr Colin Sanctuary is a biomedical engineer and Chief Executive Officer at QGel. Following his PhD in biomedical engineering at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, Colin worked in product development and later in global marketing in the medical device and pharma industries. In 2009, he co-founded QGel with the aim of building a company that contributes to improving R&D productivity in pharma, particularly in the area of developing novel anticancer treatments.
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