Adrenocortical carcinoma is a cancer of the adrenal glands that often kills the patient. Drugs to treat this cancer have failed because current research models, which use cell lines or mice, are too different from the cancer itself. Cell lines made from the cancer only have one type of cancer cell, while the original cancer has many types of cancer cells. Mice have many types of cancer cells, but the mouse cancer is too different from the human version to be helpful. To develop new treatments for this cancer, we need to make a model that includes many types of human cancer cells.
Organoids, or “mini-organs,” are a new research model that has many cell types and can be made from human tissues. They have been used to study other cancers that were previously difficult to study. We developed adrenocortical carcinoma organoids, which grew and made hormones just like the original cancer. Here, we use these organoids to study different types of cells in the cancer to determine which cells are more likely to cause worse disease. With this information, we can target weaknesses in the most dangerous cancer cells to stop the cancer from progressing, reduce treatment-related side effects, and improve survival and quality of life for patients with this terrible cancer. We also expect that our new methods can be used by scientists studying other cancers to figure out which cells are the most dangerous, so that patients with other cancers can benefit from this research.