Farmer Family challenge grant seeks to accelerate organoid technology

Not long ago, the idea of growing human organ tissue in a lab dish seemed like the plot of a science-fiction movie. Nevertheless, scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have made progress in doing exactly that, and now they are working to make intestinal organoid tissue ready to begin human clinical trials.

Organoids are miniature organs grown from a patient’s own cells. They are a platform for understanding disease, developing new personalized treatments and, ultimately, generating tissue for transplantation.

Organoids are miniature organs grown from a patient's own cells.
Organoids are miniature organs grown from a patient’s own cells.

This work is supported by a new $5 million challenge grant awarded from the Farmer Family Foundation to the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Stem Cell and Organoid Medicine (CuSTOM). This funding continues support that began in 2016 with the Farmer family’s initial $1 million gift for tissue engineering. This was followed by their first $5 million challenge grant in 2018 to establish and name the CuSTOM Accelerator Lab.

“The CuSTOM Accelerator provides a runway to develop, manufacture and deliver innovative stem cell and organoid-based research tools,” said Aaron Zorn, PhD, the organoid center’s director. “The Farmer Family Foundation’s initial support was crucial to our work.”

A team led by Michael Helmrath, MD, is working to scale up recent advances in intestinal organoid development in preparation for potential human clinical trials. 

“When we first met Dr. Zorn and Dr. Helmrath, we were impressed by both the innovative research, and the passion they had to pursue these breakthroughs on behalf of their patients,” said Mary J. Farmer, trustee of the Farmer Family Foundation.

Today, more than 100,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant. Sadly, 17 people die every day while waiting because the supply of donated human organs is so limited.

Organoid research is one promising approach for addressing the global transplantation shortage. While it will still be years before full-sized organs can be grown in lab settings, smaller amounts of tissue grown in this way may help repair damaged organs to either delay or eliminate the need for a transplant. Importantly, experts grow organoids from a patient’s own cells, which means recipients will not need the anti-rejection treatments required when using donated organs.

As a challenge grant, the medical center has five years to match the gift with investments from other donors. Contributions can be made at Give Now: CuSTOM or by contacting James Cleetus at 513-636-1166 or

Read more about organoid research at Cincinnati Children’s.

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