Joanitta Akpai from the University of Hertfordshire will be working on developing novel biomaterials from pasta to create 3D cell culture models to help in vascular disease and cancer research to replace the use of rodents in such studies.

SUPERVISOR: Dr David Chau - University of Hertfordshire

STUDENT: Miss Joanitta Akpai

Cell culture, the technique of growing cells from a specific tissue or organ, is now an integral aspect in assessing the safety of new medicines for human health and avoiding the historic exploitation of animals. However, a key disadvantage of this technique is that it is often based on the growth of a single layer of cells and not representative of the native 3D environment of the organ. In order to mimic the natural tissue more truly, cells are required to be grown on a scaffold, or supporting matrix, as well as be able to allow the flow of nutrients and oxygen around it continuously. Although much research has focused on this achievement, the proposed methods are frequently based on the use of animal components or are simply too expensive, complicated or difficult to manufacture.

This project aims to assess the feasibility of using everyday pasta as a possible solution. Wheat protein is a natural polymer and can be easily manipulated into a range of different designs/shapes. Importantly, it can provide the required 3D structural support, facilitate flow due to its tubular/hollow construction and has also been reported to enhance the biological effects of certain cells. It is proposed that this approach will provide a low cost cell culture model which is representative of functional human organs (i.e. artery, lung and kidney). This model can be used as an alternative to testing on animals and may offer translational science opportunities to those who do not have access to state-of-the-art facilities.

With the exponential increase in the development of new entities from the consumer and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the demand for replacement tissues and organs for regenerative medicine, there is an urgent need to develop more accurate, reproducible and animal-material free constructs that could be used for therapeutic needs and the toxicity assessment of novel compounds.

Since 2001, there have been 405 published articles (via PubMed) that exploit decellularised organs (i.e. lungs and kidneys) derived from animals and, of those; over 40% were generated during the 2013-2014 period. The majority of these studies involve the use of rodents with sample sizes per investigation ranging from 28-40 animals and at least 3 experimental conditions; giving an approximate usage of 30000+ animals [Melo et al., 2014; Yu et al., 2014]. Moreover, extraction of stem cells/progenitor cells from animals have been documented in over 3000 articles of which more than 45% were generated from rodent blood or bone marrow samples. Accordingly, with an average of each study requiring 5ml of blood or >10 hind legs, this equates to multi-sampling time periods or the use of 10000+ rodents [Liu et al., 2011; Zhao et al., 2012].

Although this studentship only provides the initial feasibility study for the development of a novel construct that could be exploited for drug development, it is anticipated that a fully function and accurate model will be developed based on these preliminary findings. Once fully characterised and validated, a new model would achieve a ~25% reduction in blood/bone sampling and ~50% reduction of decellularisation studies; thereby reducing the number of animals used by ~25000 rodents/year.

REFERENCES: Melo E et al., 2014. J Mech Behav Biomed Mater. 37C:186-195; Yu YL et al., 2014. Biomaterials. 35(25):6822-8; Liu L et al., 2011. Stem Cells Dev. 20(11):1961-71; Zhao L et al., 2012. Hepatogastroenterology. 59(120):2389-94