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Clevers groep

Research on pediatric solid cancers is complicated by the limited availability of tumor tissue, in particularly for functional lab-based studies. Cancer organoids may fill this gap, but are currently not available for most pediatric cancer types. We develop technologies to derive pediatric cancer organoids and use these organoids for fundamental research and drug discovery.

Acting Group Leader: Dr. Marc van de Wetering
Group Coordinator: Dr. Karin Sanders
Phone +31 88 972 9000

Current treatment for pediatric solid cancer consists of chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and in some cases immunotherapy. Few treatment options however exist for refractory or recurrent disease, with almost invariably a fatal outcome as a consequence. Very little innovation has been achieved in the past decade. We consider this a consequence of the lack of relevant experimental in vitro and in vivo models for functional studies of tumor biology.  

"Organoids can be seen as avatars of individual patients. Eventually, they will allow us to predict the optimal individual treatment for each patient." Prof.dr. Hans Clevers - Advisor


There is a dire need for novel in vitro culture-based systems to study solid pediatric cancers. Such systems should preserve the naturally existing cellular hierarchy within the tumor cell population. Tumor-derive organoids fill this gap. Organoids hold promise to revolutionize personalized tumor treatment. 

Recent developments in our laboratory have resulted in development of long-term culture conditions for healthy organ- and tumor-derived cells. This so called organoid technology allows to grow large quantities of tumor material from a small biopsy or from resected material. The technology has by now been optimized for various cancer indications including colon, pancreas, prostate breast, lung, and ovarian cancers. The organoid culture media for different tumor indications differ in growth factor composition. For most solid pediatric cancers, however, such technology is not yet available. Upon optimizing growth factor cocktails, we expect to be able to grow pediatric cancer organoids as well. This will subsequently allow us to generate living cancer organoid biobanks that will help to study the biology of pediatric tumors and test new drug treatments. 

Neuroblastoma is a malignant expansion of neuroblasts. These neuroblasts originate from neural crest cells that migrate through the developing body and eventually differentiate into specialized cell types and body structures like melanocytes, facial bones, the parasympathetic nervous system and the medulla of the adrenal gland. About half of all neuroblastomas arise in the adrenal gland, when neuroblasts are arrested in their active cycling state. To study the signals that drive proliferation of healthy and malignant neuroblasts, we use single cell analysis to make an inventory of the receptors and ligands expressed by the cells in the developing adrenal gland. These signals may include potential drug targets for novel neuroblastoma therapy.

Ewing family sarcomas are bone associated tumors that are caused by a genomic translocation involving Ewing Sarcoma Region 1. In desmoplastic small round cell tumors (DSRCT), the translocation fuses EWSR1 and WT1, but the mechanism by which the resulting chimeric EWS-WT1 protein transforms healthy cells is unknown. We have successfully derived organoids from DSRCT patients and are using these cancer organoids to study the mechanism of transformation in detail.


Clevers groep