Where Ideas grow

i3S is REMODELing research

Financed by the European Commission with 800 thousand euros through the Twinning program, the European consortium REMODEL, led by i3S, has already provided training on organoids to more than 40 researchers. The project, with the participation of the universities of Copenhagen, Wuerzburg and Utrecht, aims to provide the i3S scientific community with skills in the development and use of organoids as an alternative to animal models.

Coordinated by researchers Anna Olsson, Celso Reis, Cristina Barrias and Margarida Saraiva, the REMODEL project combines the knowledge that exists in i3S in the areas of bioengineering, cancer, and infectious diseases with partners who are at the forefront in the development of organoid systems, manipulating them them for specific purposes and validating their use as innovative models.

The objective is to train the i3S and its researchers through short stays (two to three months) in the laboratories of the three European partners of the project, scientific courses that will be given in the four institutions that are part of the consortium, and works developed in i3S. The project started in November 2019, but due to the pandemic, internships in European laboratories have not yet progressed. Even so, researcher Marta Alves da Silva, who is managing the project, is already developing organoids, has two master's students and is supporting two i3S doctoral students in their research projects. In the context of REMODEL, “we have also organized two workshops, in which we trained more than four dozen researchers, most of them from i3S”, said the project coordinator, Anna Olsson. The next workshop “Good Practices in In Vitro Research” will take place in February and registration is still open.

REMODEL, adds Anna Olsson, “represents a fundamental step of i3S in the construction of the first 3Rs Center in Portugal - ‘Replacement, Reduction and Refinement’ of animal experimentation. The use of organoids in the scientific research of i3S is an important part of this concept, along with other measures that we already have in course of reduction, substitution and animal welfare: research in bioengineering, the only vivarium in the country with the quality seal AAALAC, an animal experimentation course accredited by FELASA and being signatories to the Animal Research Transparency Agreement in Portugal”.

 

The advantages of working with organoids

An organoid is a set of cells from a specific tissue, grown in vitro, that can be used to study a particular organ. The culture of structures similar to human organs, in the laboratory, from a single cell “opens new and exciting perspectives to study the development of tissues, their functions and the mechanisms of diseases that affect these organs”, explains Marta Alves da Silva, manager of REMODEL. More importantly, she adds, “it opens the door to true personalized medicine, where we use the patient’s cells to test the therapy before it is used, thus avoiding unwanted side effects. These 3D models are a bridge between traditional in vitro cultures (2D) and animal models”.

Marta Alves da Silva continued: “organoids train researchers with more relevant models in vitro, as they can mimic most of the functions of a tissue. They are used to ‘replace’ animal experiments, namely for the development of new drugs and also allow the reduction of the number of animals used in research”.

Leader of the research group Immunology, Cancer Glycomedicine, Salomé Pinho explains that REMODEL brought to their group the possibility of using organoids: “This experimental model will allow our group to answer relevant questions in the field of Immunology, Cancer and Glycomedicine”. More specifically, says Salomé Pinho, PhD student Mariana Silva, “benefited from participation in the Organoid Workshop promoted by the REMODEL team, allowing us to start the establishment of this model in our laboratory, which is necessary to carry out a specific task of this doctoral project”.

Henrique Nogueira Pinto, who is doing his master's degree under the guidance of researcher Cristina Barrias and co-supervision of the REMODEL manager, has no doubts about the advantages of organoids: “They represent a remarkable discovery for biomedical research and constitute highly promising systems with the potential to bring models together in vitro and in vivo”. Working with organoids, he explains, “has been a great experience and it is a pleasure to be part of a project as interesting as REMODEL, which deals with one of the most important problems in biomedical research and brings together high quality international researchers with the aim of doing grow research on non-animal models”.

“I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to develop my master's thesis under REMODEL, under which I am working on hydrogels defined for the precise formation of organoids”, stresses Henrique Nogueira Pinto. “I hope that the outcome of my work can help other researchers to develop their organoids in a more defined microenvironment, which is very relevant for improving the reproducibility of the results and progressing towards future clinical applications”.