Human Organoids: A New Dimension in Cell Biology

Human organoids are being hailed as a major development in biomedicine in a report issued by the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) at the 2018 ASCB|EMBO Meeting in San Diego, CA.

According to the report, human organoids “have the potential to overcome a number of previous limitations in biomedical research” and will allow researchers to gain “insights into human development, generating accurate models of human disease, and developing authentic and patient-specific tissue sources for regenerative medicine.”

An Organoid Task Force, assembled by ASCB and led by Ruth Lehmann, Director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University School of Medicine, recognized the wealth of opportunities human organoid research will provide to life science investigators. The task force also uncovered a series of challenges that both science and society will have to address in light of this new scientific tool.

The potential applications for organoid research include:
• Improvements in the study of human developmental biology
• The unique ability to identify the mechanisms of human disease
• Tremendous potential for applications in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine
• Development of patient-specific clinical models for personalized drug development
• Significant reduction in cost and time for development of prescription drug development

“Along with the enormous potential human organoids offer, there are also a number of challenges for both science and society that will have to be addressed,” Lehmann said.

These challenges include addressing issues of reproducibility from experiment to experiment and between laboratories seeking to replicate research findings. Solving the issue of reproducibility may well determine the ultimate utility of organoids to the scientific community.

Training is also a significant hurdle to the advancement of the field. As the report states, “the development of well-structured organoids requires long periods of time (many months to years) and is not easily translated from one type of organoid to the next.” The report goes on to say that “hands-on training in these protocols is difficult and protocols can be challenging to reproduce at different geographical locations.”

Patient consent will also be a significant challenge to the future of organoid research, which will depend heavily on an adequate supply of properly consented human tissue. The ASCB paper includes detailed recommendations for developing methods of consent for future research.

Click to Read the Report

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: