Organoids provide a promising way for testing cancer treatments

Doctor Matt Munro in a lab, holding a pipette and smiling at the camera.

Dr Matt Munro is creating colon organoids from colon tissue samples to test how effective different cancer treatments are.

Dr Matt Munro is developing colon organoids to test the effectiveness of possible treatments for colon cancers. The human organoids are miniature ‘organs in a dish’, created from human tissue samples. Organoids could one day be used routinely to test new treatments and customise treatment for individual patients to improve their outcomes.

Each organoid is grown from a tissue sample, so it has very similar cellular and genetic characteristics as the organ or tumour it replicates. If a treatment works on an organoid derived from a patient’s own tissue, it has a higher chance of working on the patient themselves.

The GMRI Post-doctoral Fellow believes colon organoid models give the GMRI a new way to test a greater range of treatments more efficiently.

‘The colon organoids will allow me to perform more in-depth experiments using renin-angiotensin system inhibitors on colon cancer, and analysing how the treatments affect the colon cancer cells in the organoids,’ says Matt.

Matt is excited about what this research can do for patients, as using organoids is one of the go-to techniques for biomedical research.

In the future, organoid models could be a way to decide specific treatments for individual patients, by treating the models with a range of drugs to see which one works best.

‘This should lead to an overall improvement in how patients respond to treatment and the success of treatment,’ says Matt.

Matt’s research continues on from his PhD

This research continues on from Matt’s PhD project, in which he investigated the role of cancer stem cells and the renin-angiotensin system in colon cancer.

Once the research and testing for this project is done, Matt and Dr Lifeng Peng at Victoria University of Wellington will do a mass spectrometry analysis on the organoids. The analysis is a way of measuring the functional impact of the treatments on cancer cells.

‘There are not many studies using this method to analyse treated organoids yet, so it will be an interesting avenue of research for us,’ he says. 

The next phase of research uses organoids to test the safety of effective treatments

Once we’ve identified effective new treatments from Matt’s current research, we’ll be able to test the safety of these treatments.

Matt will start growing pairs of organoids from each patient: one organoid from normal colon tissue and one from colon cancer tissue. Then he’ll test the treatments to make sure they only affect the colon tumours and don’t harm the normal colon.

We’re aiming to develop colon organoids from 12 patients for this project, and are very grateful for the support of surgeons at the hospitals across the Wellington region.

Matt’s research continues to be recognised worldwide

Matt’s research into colon cancer has so far resulted in five published papers in internationally renowned journals, with a sixth on the way. Here are a few:

Colon adenocarcinoma-derived cells possessing stem cell function can be modulated using renin-angiotensin system inhibitors (2021)
Colon adenocarcinoma-derived cells that express induced-pluripotent stem cell markers possess stem cell function (2020)
Cancer stem cell subpopulations in primary colon adenocarcinoma (2019)

Matt also recently featured in Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington’s alumni magazine. He discussed his PhD project which investigated whether existing medications could be used to target colon cancer stem cells.

Read the article in the alumni magazine