Scientists have started growing organoids – miniature organs – in labs to study further complications caused by the novel Coronavirus. What are they and what has been found out till now? How are they any different from the organs found in patients’ bodies?
Crux of the Matter
Heard About Organs But Not Organoids?
An organoid is a miniature and more simplified version of an organ produced to perform studies on it. Grown in a tissue culture dish, it tries to mimic the real organs’ bodily functions.
Why Not Directly Study Organs Of The Patient?
Hospitalized patients and their autopsies suggest that SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes coronavirus, can have a devastating effect on their organs. This makes it unclear whether the damage is directly caused by Covid-19 or is a result of secondary complications of the infection.
According to Thomas Efferth, a cell biologist, the beauty of organoids is that they resemble the true morphology or formation of tissues. So in case, the root cause of the damage needs to be known, without taking into account the secondary reasons, organoids are more useful.
So How Will They Help In Covid-19?
Researchers are experimenting with drugs on organoids, to see whether any therapies might be potential candidates to treat people, who have serious symptoms of coronavirus. Currently, many solutions were rushed through to clinical trials, without extensive testing.
Studies on organoids reveal the virus’s ability to invade various organs of the human body, starting from the lungs, liver, kidneys to the gut. Results even show the travel path of the virus, which cells it infects, and what damage it causes.
Organoids are cheaper than animal models, plus they pose no ethical concerns like the latter.However they cannot reflect the exact same, realtime functioning between organs and the body, being grown in the tissue culture dish.
Bart Haagmans, a virologist at Erasmus MC in Netherlands suggests that they still need to be validated in clinical studies for widespread usage.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Cells in the respiratory system, from the upper airway to the lungs, are affected by the virus. Kazuo Takayama, a Japanese stem-cell biologist has developed bronchial organoids, mirroring the air passages of the lungs-bronchi, to explain this complication.
When his team infected the organoids with the virus, it targeted mainly stem cells that replenish cells in the skin. Known as basal cells, they produce new skin cells as old ones die. It has to be seen whether the virus can spread from basal cells to other cells.
Messed up Blood Circulation?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus can also infect the endothelium, cells lining the blood vessels, allowing the virus to further seep into the blood and circulate around the body. This damages the blood vessels severely in the patients.
Kidney And Liver At Risk?
Researchers are uncertain about the direct cause of kidney dysfunction observed in some patients. Whereas studies on liver organoids suggest that the virus can infect and kill cells that contribute to bile production, known as cholangiocytes.
The cause could be either an overactive immune response or drug side effects. But the virus also manages to replicate in cells that line the small and large intestines called enterocytes.
- Eroom’s law is the observation that drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive over time, despite improvements in technology, a trend first observed in the 1980s. The law was deliberately spelled as Moore’s law spelled backwards.
- The Scientist is a professional magazine intended for life scientists. Organoids was named by The Scientist as one of the biggest scientific advancements of 2013.
- In-vitro studies are performed with microorganisms, cells, or biological molecules outside their normal biological context. Colloquially called “test-tube experiments”, these studies in biology and its sub disciplines are traditionally done in labware such as test tubes, flasks, Petri dishes, and microtiter plates. In contrast to in vitro experiments, in-vivo studies are those conducted in living organisms, including humans, and whole plants.