• Question: How do you grow these mini organs?

    Asked by Owen to Nicholas on 6 Mar 2017. This question was also asked by Cory Kooth.
    • Photo: Nicholas Younger

      Nicholas Younger answered on 6 Mar 2017:

      It’s a bit complicated but I’ll do my best to explain it! Sorry for the long answer!

      So in all of your organs there are rare cells called stem cells. These cells have the amazing ability to turn into any of the kinds of cells in that organ. They do this all the time when you injure yourself or when you grow and need more cells.

      In the liver there are these cells too. I start off with either the liver from a mouse, or a bit of liver from a human that’s had an operation to get a bit of their liver taken out.

      I then break it up into individual cells and mix them in with a gel which lets the cells grow in 3D like they would in a living organism.

      I then add loads of different chemicals that are found in the liver which tell the cells that are stem cells to grow.

      And this is the amazing bit – the cells start to grow, and they know how to organise themselves into little mini organs. The ones that I study look a bit boring, they are just like hollow spheres – so they don’t look much like a liver, but the cells act with each other in the way they do in the liver.

      This is really cool – you can also do this with brains too. And the mini brain organs actually look a lot like brains. Search google images for “nature brain organoids” and you can see them – they look amazing!

      But basically – you take the cells out of the animal and use specific chemicals to instruct them to try and repair themselves. And they do the rest themselves. This is a new technology but it’s so powerful.

      In the near future you will hopefully be able to take a person that has cancer and take some of the cancer cells and grow them in this way into mini tumours. Then you can treat them with different drugs to see which one the person will react the best to. In this way you can make “personalised” cures.