Organoids are miniature models of organs. Led by scientist Jeff Wrana, a team of researchers is focusing on developing organoids to gain insights into tissue development and diseases.
“An organoid is a little organ that we can create using human and mouse embryonic stem cells,” explains Wrana, who is a senior investigator at Sinai Health System. “They provide an opportunity to make tiny models of many organs including the intestines, liver and kidneys. Our team’s focus now is making cerebral organoids, which are models of parts of the brain.”
The team aims to use organoids to gain unique insights into the human-specific aspects of signaling networks associated with conditions such as autism.
A recent breakthrough from the team involved incorporating blood vessels into the organoid models using microfluidic devices, enabling the study of stroke and the inner workings of the blood-brain barrier, which is crucial for drug development.
“You want some drugs to penetrate this barrier to treat diseases that affect the brain, such as ALS,” says Wrana, who is also a professor of molecular genetics at U of T. “But there are other drugs that you don’t want to get into the neural tissue because they could damage the brain. So, this organoid model could potentially allow us to measure if drugs can penetrate the human blood-brain barrier.”
An offshoot of this project, which is also supported with funding from Medicine by Design is the Applied Organoid Core, run by U of T biochemistry’s Professor Liliana Attisano, which is a service that generates brain organoids for research through its facility at the Donnelley Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research. The Applied Organoid Core has established a partnership with the Network Biology Collaboration Center at Mt. Sinai Hospital to support development of imaging solutions in regenerative medicine.