An organoid is a miniature and simplified version of an organ. An organoid is made out of tissue cells and stem cells. Stem cells are pluripotent, which means that it can form into any type of adult cell. Organoids have the ability to organize as well as renew themselves. Due to its combination of human tissue and stem cells, an organoid actually contains the DNA of its donor, which means it carries the personal characteristics of that donor (e.g. genetic make-up, age, gender, etc). This raises ethical questions about the use of organoids in virology. These questions will be researched by Early Stage Researcher Andrew Barnhart for one of OrganoVIR’s research projects.

Transforming the Virology Landscape

Establishing human organoids as superior models for virus research, thus replacing animal models and reducing animal use.

Using a multi-disciplinary approach with experts in bioengineering, virology, bio-business, policy, and ethics. Together we develop new organoid models for virology.

Why we use organoids

Immortalized cancerous cell lines and animals models are most commonly used in the study of viral infections and diseases. However, the translation of these in vitro (meaning ‘studied in glass’) and in vivo models (meaning ‘studied in living organisms’) into humans have been very disappointing. The field of virology wants to use an alternative model that provides a better translation to the situation in humans. It has found this alternative model in organoids.


Organoids give us a far more accurate image of what host factors are essential for a virus infection in humans. This model also provides a better visualization of how viruses spread in human cells and it gives researchers the opportunity to study differences in donors, such as age, sex, or genetic make-up. This would ultimately lead to a better understanding of the behaviour of viruses in different human beings.


On top of that, organoids can test the toxicity of drugs far more accurately than animal or in vitro models. By using organoid technology for the study of viral infections, OrganoVIR will set the standard for the use of organoids in virology by standardizing organoid models and will help create a new mindset to reduce and replace animal experiments in different research fields.

Viruses studied in OrganoVIR

The landscape of viral infections has changed over the last decades due to new antiviral treatments and vaccines, but these are only available against a limited number of viral infections. This is primarily due to the poor understanding of the unique viral pathogenesis in humans for many viruses.

Influenza A virus (IAV)

Family: Orthomyxoviridae




Subtypes: Classified by hemagglutinin (H1-18) and neuraminidase (N1-11)


Characteristics: Seasonal epidemics and deadly pandemics; circulating human strains H1N1 and H3N2

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Family: Paramyxoviridae




Subtypes: Subtypes A and B


Characteristics: Most important cause of lower RT infections in children: 3.2 million infants hospitalized yearly

Human coronavirus (CoV)

Family: Coronaviridae


AV/V: -/-


Subtypes: 229E, OC43, NL63, HKU1, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV


Characteristics: Up to 20% of upper and lower RTI. Mortality 35% in high-pathogenic strains (MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV)

Rhinovirus (RV)

Family: Picornaviridae


AV/V: -/-


Subtypes: Species A, B and C, >160 genotypes


Characteristics: Main pathogen of the ‘common cold’, species C associated with severe lower RTI and asthma

Enterovirus (EV), parechovirus (HPeV)

Family: Picornaviridae


AV/V: -/-


Subtypes: Poliovirus 1-3, CVA, CVB, echo1-34, EV 68-119, HPeV1-16


Characteristics: Causes RTI and GE, hand-foot-mouth disease, meningitis, encephalitis, paralysis, myocarditis, sepsis

Rotavirus (HRV)

Family: Reoviridae


AV/V: -/V


Subtypes: A-G


Characteristics: Most common cause of gastroenteritis in children; HRV group A causes 90% of human infections

Norovirus (HuNoV)

Family: Caliciviridae


AV/V: -/-


Subtypes: Genogroups GI, GII and GIV


Characteristics: Common cause of gastroenteritis also in adults