By Deborah Oakley
Hans Clevers visited the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (LMS) this month to tell us the latest on his pioneering stem cell research.
Clevers and his team were the first to identify stem cells in crypts, the deep folds of our intestines. These cells had previously been seen in the guts of flies. Clevers showed that in people they are constantly dividing into different types of specialised gut cells. This on-going production of new tissue means our guts have a faster turnover than any other organ in the body.
Today, Clevers uses stem cells to grow three-dimensional models of organs, called organoids. “From a single stem cell, you can make small organs,” he said. These organoids replicate the structure and function of real organs, and so allow scientists to explore how our organs behave in great detail.
“Now we can grow guts on a dish, and this has really transformed the way we do science. It’s not just a discovery tool, we can also derive organoids from patient tissue and explore how it might respond to drugs,” said Irene Miguel-Aliaga, who leads the LMS Gut Signalling and Metabolism group, and who invited Clevers. “We both share a fascination for the adult intestine and its plasticity. As Hans put it himself a few years ago, it really is a tissue that reinvents itself on different days.”
Clevers went on to discuss the possible ways that organoids may one day be used to treat patients. He said they have already been trialed to heal patches of wounded cells in the colons of mice that have inflammation caused by colitis. The talk captured the attention of a packed lecture theatre, and it appears he had a similarly attentive audience when he went on to speak at The Francis Crick Institute in central London.
Clevers celebrated his birthday on Monday this week. He was featured on Biomedical Picture of the Day (BPoD), a public engagement project initiated by the LMS, shown here, and written by Jake Jacobson who works with Miguel-Aliaga in the Gut Signalling and Metabolism group. Find out more.
For more information, contact:
Science Communications Officer
MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences