Scientists Grow 'Mini-Organs' To Monitor And Treat Congenital Conditions Before Birth

Gaining insights into the cause and progression of malformations, researchers explore the creation of organoids from cells in amniotic fluid.

Scientists Grow 'Mini-Organs' To Monitor And Treat Congenital Conditions Before Birth

Organoids mimic features and functions of larger tissues and organs.

Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in understanding fetal development. They've successfully grown miniature organs, called organoids, from cells shed by fetuses in the womb. This paves the way for a deeper understanding of birth defects and potentially personalized treatments before birth.

Published in Nature Medicine, the groundbreaking study marks the first successful growth of organoids from human stem cells during an active pregnancy, providing 'mini-organs' that retain the baby's biological information.

The organoids were created from lung, kidney, and intestinal cells found in amniotic fluid, the protective liquid surrounding a fetus. This is the first time such organoids have been developed from unaltered amniotic fluid cells.

These tiny organoids, less than a millimeter wide, hold immense potential. Dr Mattia Gerli, a researcher from UCL, believes they can revolutionize the study of fetal development in both healthy and abnormal pregnancies.

Traditionally, studying fetal development has been challenging. This new approach allows scientists to analyze organ growth months before birth. This opens doors for earlier diagnoses of birth defects and the potential for personalized interventions.

Organoids are simplified 3D cell structures that mimic actual organs. Scientists use them to understand organ development, disease progression, and test potential treatments.

Previously, organoids were derived from adult cells or fetal tissue from terminated pregnancies. This new method avoids ethical concerns and utilizes readily available amniotic fluid during routine prenatal testing.

The research team, led by Dr Gerli and Professor Paolo de Coppi, analyzed amniotic fluid samples from 12 pregnant women. While most cells were dead, a small portion contained stem cells for lungs, kidneys, and intestines. These stem cells were then nurtured into functional organoids.

As a proof of concept, the researchers created lung organoids from fetuses with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a condition where a hole in the diaphragm hinders lung development. They observed significant differences in organoid development before and after treatment for CDH, suggesting the effectiveness of the therapy.

Professor de Coppi believes this approach can be used to study other birth defects like cystic fibrosis and malformations in the kidneys and gut. Additionally, drugs for congenital disorders could potentially be tested on these organoids before administering them to babies.

This breakthrough holds immense promise for the future of prenatal medicine. By studying fetal development through organoids, scientists may be able to diagnose and potentially treat birth defects even before a baby is born.