The Cabrini Monash University Department of Surgery, Monash University and other research partners from the Australian Living Organoid Alliance (ALOA) were recently announced as recipients of a $598,000 grant from Cancer Australia, as part of the Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS). This three-year grant will enable the department to continue its world-leading research in organoids.

PdCCRS project grants are designed to support collaborative cancer research amongst innovative partnerships which will have a direct impact on clinical practices, policy and patient outcomes.

Translating colorectal cancer organoids into patient care

Colorectal cancer is common throughout Australia with a high mortality rate. The Cancer Genome Atlas and others have catalogued many of the genetic and epigenetic markers of colorectal carcinogenesis. Yet these incredible resources cannot experimentally validate therapeutic targets. There is the need for a living, preclinical ‘bridge’ to understand the evolution of cancer and to discover new susceptibilities. One such biological bridge is the development of organoid-based technology.

This research plans to take samples of colon tumours (both primary and metastatic) and normal tissue from individual patients and ‘culture’ or grow the tissue in the laboratory using a new culture method. This technology then produces ‘organoids’ that originate from cultures of normal tissue, and ‘tumouroids’ from bowel cancer tumours. Both types of cultures are grown and expanded, frozen down and then used for a variety of experimental tests or ‘assays’.

Both organoids and tumouroids are not artificially transformed, and are easily propagated while remaining biologically representative of the endogenous or original tumour. Furthermore, they can be screened for drug sensitivities, and potentially used to guide patient therapy. While organoid and tumouroid technology holds great promise, currently the clinical relevance to guide patient care is unknown. To address this shortfall a series of innovative experiments will be conducted to establish if, and how, tumouroids could be applied in the clinical management of patients with bowel cancer.

Summary

Personalised medicine is individually tailoring therapy so that a patient receives the greatest possible benefit and with the fewest side-effects. Small fragments of a bowel cancer in a dish, called ‘tumouroids’, can now be grown so that each patient’s cancer can be tested for drug sensitivities before they receive therapy. Tumouroids represent a living bridge to personalise the treatment plan for bowel cancer. This new research will test how tumouroids can be used to predict patient responses to therapy.

This new grant of $598,000 from Cancer Australia will allow the Cabrini Department of Surgery’s research platform to continue in an expanded collaborative fashion, and pursue exciting research that leads to a potentially innovative and patient-centered clinical tool.