• Using mini-organs to study gut disease

    Thanks to the support of the CICRA Educational bursary, I was able to attend the international conference “Organoids – Modelling Development and Disease in 3D culture”, organised by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) in Heidelberg, Germany. Given the title of this conference, you may now wonder: What are organoids?

    Organoids are self-organising, complex structures of cells that essentially form part of a “mini-organ” in a dish. Scientists can keep these mini-organs in culture over long periods of time and use them as models to perform experiments. These culture models have many advantages: for example, they are a three-dimensional system and they can be derived from human cells.

    Our research group is growing the so-called intestinal organoid model, or “mini-guts”. This means we culture the inner lining of the gut (the gut epithelium) in a dish. We are able to generate these mini-guts from just a tiny piece of intestinal tissue (i.e. a biopsy) from children that had an endoscopy in our unit. In a current project, we characterised these mini-guts on a molecular level by looking at the molecular switches in a cell that can turn genes on or off. We call these switches “epigenetic mechanisms”. Interestingly, we found out that the switches in mini-guts nicely reflect their state in the human body. This means we now can make mini-guts from children with IBD and use them to find out what is different in the gut lining in IBD.

    I was selected to present our findings on a poster at this conference, and got great feedback from other researchers working on related questions. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to talk to top scientists in the field, including the ones who invented the mini-gut model. The talks at the conference made clear how “mini-organs” can provide exciting new opportunities for research into human diseases. Therefore, I am very grateful to CICRA for their support that allowed me to be a part of this by attending this conference.


    An article by CICRA-sponsored PhD student, Dr Judith Kraiczy