Organ Mini-Me to the Rescue: If You Have Cystic Fibrosis, Tiny Versions of Your Gut Could Save Your Life

In the world of medical science, there’s theory and there’s application. Many scientists and researcher make amazing discoveries, but few find applications that can really transform lives. Hans Clevers is one of those rare exceptions.

According to an article in the American Association for the Advancement of Science magazine, Clevers, Director of the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Netherlands, has developed a method to grow “mini-organs” in order to find successful treatments for people with cystic fibrosis (CF).
Let me say that again: Clevers is growing miniature organs (organoids) to help determine successful cystic fibrosis treatments. That’s right.

Organoids made headlines in scientific circles years ago when stem cells were used to grow cells that mimicked human brain cells. That was pretty cool, but Clevers found a way to use cell material from the stomach, pancreas, brain, and liver to create “mini-organs” without embryonic stem cells. Other scientists have accomplished this miraculous feat as well, but it’s Clevers’ clever application of this mind-blowing task that has people with CF and other rare diseases taking notice.

This microscope mimicry is already changing lives. Thanks to Clevers and his team, Els van der Heijden, a Netherlands woman with a rare form of CF, now has a drug therapy that would have otherwise not been available to her. Because of her rare CF mutation, the drug that she hoped might arrest the progress of her lung disease was denied by her insurance company. Clevers took a cell sample from van der Heijden’s gut, cultured it, and was able to test the expensive CF drug on her mini-gut proving its effectiveness!

In 2013, Clevers founded Hubrecht Organoid Technology (HUB) to further his research and application of these organ mini-me’s. Now HUB is creating a biobank to house organoids from all 1500 Dutch CF patients for testing both existing drugs and new candidates. According to the article, drug and biotech companies are lining up to work with HUB as a source for research and testing — which means these teeny tiny organs could bring about some huge medical breakthroughs in the years to come.

To find out more about CF, check out our partners CysticLife and Strawfie Challenge.

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