First lab-grown mini-thyroids produced from patients’ own tissue

Thyroid mini-organs have been generated in the lab by researchers, which are able to self-renew and differentiate into functional tissue.

Thyroid gland

To investigate potential alternative treatment strategies for hypothyroidism patients, researchers have now for the first time succeeded in generating thyroid mini-organs in the lab. The study was conducted at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. 

According to the researchers, hormones produced by the thyroid gland are essential regulators of organ function. The absence of these hormones either through dysfunction due to, for example, irradiation, thyroid cancer or autoimmune disease or thyroidectomy leads to hypothyroidism symptoms like fatigue, feeling cold, constipation and weight gain. Although the condition can be treated by hormone replacement therapy, some patients have persistent symptoms and/or experience side effects.

The researchers from the study used healthy tissue from patients undergoing surgical removal of the thyroid to grow mini organs in a lab which resembled the glands in their structure and protein content. These mini-organs contained stem cells which re-grew and formed new mini-organs when the structures were dissociated, providing a potentially unlimited source of lab-grown thyroid tissue. Importantly, the team say the mini-organs could be matured to produce thyroid hormones in the cultures.

Mini thyroid

Human thyroid organoid displaying functionality through thyroglobulin (green) production and proliferative capacity by Ki67 (red) [credit: Vivian ML Ogundipe].

Preliminary proof that these structures could potentially replace thyroid tissue came from experiments in mice with hypothyroidism, where transplantation of the mini-organs increased serum levels of hormones and extended the lifespan of the animals compared to un-transplanted mice.

“This study provides evidence that thyroid-lineage-specific cells can form organoids that are able to self-renew and differentiate into functional thyroid tissue. Subsequent (xeno-)transplantation of these thyroid organoids demonstrates a proof-of-principle for functional miniature gland formation,” the authors of the study write. 

This study lays the foundation for generating mini-organs from surgically removed tissue and may potentially lead to a new therapy for hypothyroidism in the future.

The results from the study are published in Stem Cell Reports.