Advanced in vitro models have accelerated the translation of knowledge from bench to bedside to improve treatment; however more work is still required. The Organ Model focus area is dedicated to developing alternative approaches to animal models in line with the 3R principles (Replace, Reduce and Refine). Indeed, on one side it is becoming evident that animal models do not always adequately reflect the human disease conditions (for example cancer, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, pain). On the other side, simplified in vitro models have also limitations in providing outcomes that can be easily translated to human disorders.
Low back pain represents a major human and societal challenge. The intervertebral disc is the most frequently cited source for this debilitating condition and severity of disc degeneration correlates with back pain prevalence. Current whole organ cultures of intervertebral discs from large species provide a valuable tool to evaluate the treatment efficacy on disc restoration, but not yet on back pain.
The Organ Model focus area aims to develop an ex-vivo organ culture model (ultimately using human tissues) to investigate how inflammation and detrimental mechanical loading of the intervertebral disc produce a degenerative microenvironment, which can influence the function of the dorsal root ganglion and the glial cells in the spinal cord. This model will allow to better understand how the peripheral input from the damaged disc tissue is maintained and processed from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system. Advanced organ models will help to further bridge the translation gap and improve patient outcome.