Recently, the National Cancer Institute provided a $2.5M grant to support specialized medical research being performed at the Wake Forest Organoid Research Center (WFORCE). According to the press release, the grant will support the Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) to develop a new drug testing platform and, with it, more tailored and specialized treatment options. The platform, which will use organoids, will focus on identifying and developing treatments for patients with various forms of abdominal cancer.
Within the drug development platform, researchers will focus on organoid research. According to STEMCELL Technologies, an organoid is a:
three-dimensional (3D) cell [culture] that incorporate[s] some of the key features of the represented organ. These in vitro culture systems are characterized by the self-organization of multiple, organ-specific cell types into a spatial organization similar to what is observed in vivo, and are capable of recapitulating some functions of the represented organ.
Organoids are grown using stem cells or specific tissue. In this case, the organoid technology would biopsy patient tumors and use those to grow organoids. Rather than being representative of the organ itself, the organoids in this case would represent the abdominal tumors. Through genomics and bioengineering, the organoid platform can be used to determine how patients and tumors might react to certain treatments.
This is especially important when determining how to treat patients whose tumors are a result of specific genetic changes or biologic behaviors. Being able to understand how a patient might respond to chemotherapy or another treatment offers the ability to treat each particular patient’s needs.
Through this organoid research, researchers will also evaluate treatments for different types of abdominal cancer, ranging from colon and pancreatic cancer to appendiceal cancer.
In 2020, the WFORCE formed as:
the first program of its kind, to leverage reconstruction of each patient’s own tumor in the form of 3D patient-specific tumor organoids and apply it translationally, with a goal of informing personalized treatment of cancer, as well as research and development of new therapies.
The WFORCE areas of focus include personalized medicine, adaptive immunity, drug development, and rare tumors.
According to the Palo Verde Cancer Specialists, abdominal cancer:
is diagnosed when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably anywhere between the groin and the chest. The organs that cancer may affect include: intestines, liver, colon, gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, esophagus and many blood vessels.
Each year, an estimated 250,000 abdominal cancer diagnoses are made. These include colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and renal cell carcinoma (RCC), among others. Risk factors include age, smoking cigarettes, eating a high-fat diet, obesity, and a family history of abdominal cancer.
Symptoms vary depending on where the cancer is located. For example, patients with pancreatic cancer may experience jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) or blood clots. Alternately, RCC may present as bloody urine or high blood pressure. However, according to the Baptist Cancer Center, some general symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Bloody stool
- Unintended weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Feeling easily full or bloated