‘Bone marrow in a dish’ used to study personalised cancer drugs

Bone marrow organoids

Scientists from Oxford University and the University of Birmingham have made the first bone marrow ‘organoids’ that include all the key components of human marrow.  

The technology allows for the screening of multiple anti-cancer drugs at the same time, as well as testing personalised treatments for individual cancer patients.   

The study, published in the journal Cancer Discovery, describes a new method using human stem cells grown in a specially designed 3D ‘scaffold’, to generate the key cell types that exist in human bone marrow.  

Dr Abdullah Khan, a 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 the cells in their bone marrow organoids resemble real bone marrow cells not just in terms of their activity and function, but also in their architectural relationships – the cell types ‘self-organise’ and arrange themselves within the organoids just like they do in human bone marrow in the body.”   

Customised cancer treatments

These new organoids can also keep cancer cells from blood cancer patients alive in the lab, something that was very difficult before. This means that doctors may now be able to test customised treatments for specific patients on their own cancer cells, to find the treatments most likely to treat the cancer.  

Senior study author Professor Bethan Psaila, a haematology medical doctor as well as a research Group Leader at the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, added: “It’s really exciting to now have this terrific system, as finally, we are able to study cancer directly using cells from our patients, rather than relying on animal models or other simpler systems that do not properly show us how the cancer is developing in the bone marrow in actual patients.” 

Image: A cross section of a mini bone marrow organoids showing cells that produce blood platelets, in a network of blood vessels. Image credit: Dr A Khan, University of Birmingham.

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