Using organoids to understand COVID-19

In order to tackle COVID-19, scientists need to understand more about the disease. Stem-cell-derived organoids are being used as a tool to study the disease and to test potential treatments.

Read our fact sheet to find out more about these groups of cells that have been grown in laboratories to closely resemble organs:

Organoids: what are they & how do they help regenerative medicine?


Dr Emma Rawlins, from the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, uses lung organoids to study lung development, and we asked her whether organoids could be a useful model for studying COVID-19.

I am a member of the Human Lung Cell Atlas consortium where several research groups have contributed data in order to gain a better understanding of the tissue as a whole, in particular which lung cells express the COVID-19 receptors. These things bring together a huge amount of information, which enables science to progress faster as information is shared. There are some cell types which can’t be grown in 2D culture, and if these are believed to contribute to a disease, then organoids become very useful. Organoids are defined as a mixture of cell types growing together in an organised fashion, and this also means cell interactions can be studied better. This also allows the interactions of the immune system and the cells of a tissue to be studied in a more meaningful way.

Read the full interview: Meet the Scientist: Emma Rawlins


Organoids are being used by researchers around the EuroStemCell partnership. For example, an international group of scientists, including researchers from IMBA – Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, slowed SARS-CoV-2 infection in organoids, demonstrating the potential blocking effect of a drug already in clinical trials.

Read EuroStemCell’s summary of this study:

Can we close the doors of our cells to Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2?

Read about this study on the IMBA website:

Fighting SARS-CoV-2 in Human Blood Vessel Organoids


Researchers at the Hubrecht Institute, along with other colleagues in the Netherlands, found that SARS-CoV-2 can infect cells of the intestine and multiply there. The findings could explain the observation that approximately one third of patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more on the Hubrecht Institute website:

Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Infects Cells of the Intestine


In the video below, Dr Fotios Sampaziotis from the Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute explains how he discovered his work on stem-cell-derived bile duct organoids could provide a potential mechanism to study virus uptake and screen drugs to fight the pandemic.


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