PIC-gel in petrischaaltje
PIC-gel in petrischaaltje

KWF Grant for research into head and neck cancer

Paul Kouwer, associate professor at Synthetic Organic Chemistry, together with Marleen Ansems from Radboudumc, receives a grant from the KWF (Dutch Cancer Society) for their research project Orgatrix. With the grant, valued at 235,000 euros, the team will investigate the optimal conditions for in vitro cultivation of mini head and neck tumors (tumor organoids).

Cancer research 

To study head and neck cancer, researchers use patient material from head and neck cancer tumors. The tumor cells are cultivated in vitro into a tumor organoid, which is then used for research into therapies for head and neck cancer. 

Thus far, the cultivation of these organoids has been very limited: only 50% of the patient material successfully grows for research purposes. The conditions in which the tumor organoids grow must be precisely right. Paul Kouwer and Marleen Ansems aim to investigate, in their research project Orgatrix, what the best conditions are for cultivating organoids of head and neck tumors. This will make more patient material available for research, potentially aiding more patients with the appropriate therapy.

PIC Gel 

Previous research has shown that the synthetic PIC gel, invented and developed at Radboud University, appears suitable for culturing organoids. The researchers use this PIC gel to culture the tumor organoids. Paul Kouwer states, "The major advantage of working with the PIC gel is that you can easily extract the tumor cells without damaging them. Additionally, the PIC gel is animal-free, and we can modify the gel, thus creating the ideal conditions for growing the tumor organoids."


To test whether the tumor organoids grow well in the modified gel, the researchers initially use mouse tumors, as more material is available. They observe the rate of tumor growth and their size. Kouwer explains, "If it turns out that the mouse tumors grow well in the modified PIC gel, we will study whether the same applies to human cells. Not all patients are the same, and not everyone has the same form of head and neck cancer. So, we create different variants."

Future outlook 

Kouwer envisions, "If our groups have developed a gel in a year and a half in which we can grow human organoids that closely resemble real cancers, then we can truly make significant strides. We can then examine biopsies to determine the optimal (personalised) treatment for patients. For researchers, we can create an increasingly better model, allowing us to learn more about how tumors develop and how to treat them. Additionally, we can apply everything we have learned in this project to grow other types of cancers."

Photo by Ivan Samkov via pexels.com.

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Science, Health & Healthcare