Deep in the ocean swim all kinds of astonishing and
colourful creatures. This odd turquoise ball looks like it could be
one of them, but it is something very different: a miniature
intestine, which Saskia Suijkerbuijk made during her research into
cancer. This painterly photograph won her first prize in the 2019
NKI microscopy image contest.
What if we could thwart cancer cells by supporting their healthy
neighbours? Research by Saskia Suijkerbuijk has shown that
intestinal cancer cells in the liver may be able to kill adjacent
liver cells, thereby improving their own growth opportunities.
Understanding how this works may open the way to new therapies.
Almost half of those with colorectal cancer suffer from
metastases in the liver at some point. Their effective treatment is
still extremely difficult, so researchers are seeking new ways to
fight these metastases.
Saskia is doing this by examining how intestinal cancer cells in
the liver influence their neighbouring cells for their own benefit.
To do so, she uses organoids: a sort of mini-organs, like the one
seen in the microscopic image. In the laboratory she can study
these tiny organs to find out how intestinal cancer cells and liver
cells behave towards one another. She hopes to then discover which
cell types suffer most from this competition, and why.
This is an organoid: a miniature intestine, created in the
lab and consisting of about 1000 mouse cells. It is about the size
of a grain of sand. Turquoise indicates the outer surfaces of the
intestinal cells; pink the cells that support the growth of stem
cells, so that the intestine can renew itself. The hollow interior
functions as the intestinal lumen. (Photoshop oil-painting filter
Last year the Dutch Cancer Society awarded Saskia a young investigator grant of €659,000.
Once it becomes clear which kinds of signals occur during
competition between the cells, then she can also attempt to inhibit
these signals - which might reduce growth rates in malignant
Incidentally, creating an image of this kind involves much more
work than just pressing a button on the microscope. The organoid is
3D, while the microscope uses lasers to create a 2D (flat) image.
Saskia therefore makes images of 50 cross-sections of the organoid,
and then combines them to produce a 3D depiction of the entire
organoid that can be closely examined.
Read more about this research on the Dutch Cancer Society website