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Summer Student 2019: Keerthana Sasitharan

Summer Student 2019: Keerthana Sasitharan

Supervised by Dr Gehad Youssef at our Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence, Keerthana will use artificial intelligence and human tumour samples to predict if oral cancer will spread, and to help replace experiments on mice.

Predicting the reoccurrence and spread of oral cancer remains one of the main challenges in treating the half-a-million people who are sadly suffering globally with head and neck cancer. Cancer stem cells, a type of cell found in tumours, keep the cancer alive and push it to spread around the body. It is therefore important that researchers identify these cancer stem cells so that doctors can monitor patients with cancer and treat them more effectively.

Sadly, to validate ways of identifying oral cancer stem cells and aggressive tumour growth often involves injecting human cancer stem cells into mice, who are then forced to suffer severely as the tumour grows inside them. The handling of these mice alone can cause them considerable stress and suffering due to their tumour growth. Cancer-causing chemicals are also sometimes put into their water or food to make sure that they develop fast-growing tumours. When their tumours have grown large enough, or have spread throughout their bodies, they are killed, and their tumours and organs removed for further study.

In her summer research project, Keerthana will use human tissue samples and computational biology to replace experiments on animals in the validation of new indicators of oral cancer. She will use an artificial intelligence approach to predict whether a tumour will spread or not by identifying specific oral cancer stem cells in patient tumour samples.

As well as being cheaper than cruel experiments on animals, using human tissue and artificial intelligence driven prediction can potentially speed up the rate at which oral cancer treatments reach patients. Keerthana’s research could also help drive the replacement of animal experiments by demonstrating that oral cancer indicators can be developed and validated without the use of animals.

The opportunity and support given to early-career scientists through the Summer Student Programme paves the way for the next generation to be innovative: to end the era of animal testing, carry out pioneering research, and make medical breakthroughs.

The discoveries of past dental treatments and procedures have unfortunately been at the cost of the lives of guinea pigs, mice, rats, dogs, goats, rabbits and monkeys. In order to understand human disease, the use of human models is far more fitting than experimenting on animals, who are alarmingly inflicted with deliberate and avoidable harm.

My summer research project will be a great opportunity for me to explore non-animal methods in dental research, providing me with hands on laboratory experience. After I graduate, I hope to study dentistry and specialise in the field of oral cancer research before becoming an NHS dental practitioner.

Page last modified on February 5, 2020 4:19 pm