‘Miniature bone marrow in a dish’ to improve cancer treatments

Scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Birmingham have created the first bone marrow ‘organoids’ that capture key features of human bone marrow. This technology, which is the subject of a patent application filed by the University of Birmingham Enterprise, will allow the screening of several anti-cancer drugs at the same time, as well as the testing of personalized treatments for cancer patients.

A study published in the journal Discovery of cancerdescribes the new method, which results in an organoid that faithfully models the cellular, molecular, and architectural characteristics of myelopoietic (production of blood cells) bone marrow.

Research has also shown that organoids provide a microenvironment that can accept and support the survival of cells from patients with malignant blood tumors, including multiple myeloma cells, which are notoriously difficult to maintain outside the human body. .

Dr Abdullah Khan, Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and first author of the study, said: “Remarkably, we found that their bone marrow organoid cells resemble true bone marrow cells, not just in terms of their activity and function, but also in their architectural relationships – cell types “self-organize” and arrange themselves within organoids, just as they do in body human bone marrow. »

This realistic architecture allowed the team to study how bone marrow cells interact to support normal blood cell production, and how this is disrupted in bone marrow fibrosis (myelofibrosis), where scar tissue s accumulates in the bone marrow, causing bone marrow failure. Bone marrow fibrosis can develop in patients with certain types of blood cancers and remains incurable.

The study’s lead author, Professor Bethan Psaila, a haematologist and research group leader at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, said: “To fully understand how and why blood cancers develop, we need to use experimental systems that closely resemble how real human bone marrow works, which we didn’t really have before. It’s really exciting to now have this great system, because finally we are able to study cancer directly using our patients’ cells, rather than relying on animal models or other more simple ones that don’t show us correctly how cancer grows in the bone marrow in real patients. »

Dr Khan also added: “This is a huge step forward, leading to a better understanding of cancer cell growth patterns and potentially a more personalized approach to treatment. We now have a platform that we can use to test drugs on a “personalized medicine” basis.

“Having developed and validated the model is the crucial first step, and in our ongoing collaborative work, we will work with others to better understand how bone marrow functions in healthy people and what goes wrong when they have blood diseases.”

Dr. Psaila added: “We hope this new technique will help accelerate the discovery and testing of new blood cancer treatments, enabling our patients to get improved drugs to clinical trials faster.

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Materials provided by University of Birmingham. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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