Tumor organoids and original tumor tissue

Tumour ‘organoids’ in lab dishes (left) were seeded with tissue removed from a human lung tumour (right). Credit: K. K. Dijkstra et al./Cell

Cancer

Mini-tumours turn immune cells into cancer fighters

Personalized white blood cells attack tumours after incubation with cancer tissue.

Miniature tumours in a dish can be used to give immune cells cancer-killing powers — and might illuminate why some tumours resist a promising therapy.

The innovative cancer treatment, called immunotherapy, enlists patients’ own immune systems to fight their cancers. Seeking to advance the approach, Emile Voest of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam and his colleagues obtained tumour cells from people with colorectal or lung cancer and cultured the cells to make patient-specific ‘organoids’ — small, 3D versions of whole organs. The researchers also used cancer-free tissue from several of the same patients to make healthy organoids.

The team isolated immune cells called lymphocytes from patients’ blood and incubated each patient’s lymphocytes with his or her tumour organoid. This increased the number of those immune cells that were able to attack the tumour organoids. But lymphocytes incubated with healthy organoids did not kill their host tissue, suggesting that the technique would not cause serious side effects.

The scientists say their approach will aid research into why some tumours lose their responsiveness to immunotherapy.