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Summer Student 2019: Abigail Wright

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Summer Student 2019: Abigail Wright

Supervised by Dr Sebastien Farnaud at Coventry University, Abigail will develop and validate an all-human model of Parkinson’s disease to replace experiments on mice, rats, dogs and monkeys.

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including muscle rigidity, tremor and slowing of physical movement, are thought to be the result of a deficiency in dopamine – one of the brain’s chemical messengers. The cause of Parkinson’s disease is still unknown, so it is often treated by restoring dopamine levels in patients, which can alleviate the symptoms of the disease – but not what causes it. However, people with Parkinson’s disease often have increased levels of iron in their brain, which might play a role in causing less dopamine to be produced.

Parkinson’s disease does not develop naturally in any animals except humans. However, monkeys, rats, mice, dogs, cats and pigs have all, unfortunately, been experimented on in an attempt to study the disease. Animals are kept in cages and repeatedly injected with chemicals to force them to suffer with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. They can experience seizures, limb paralysis, tremors, collapsing and even death, before being forced into various machines and instruments to be experimented on. Animals who don’t die as a result of being drugged are killed and punctured in their hearts to flush the blood out of their bodies before their brains are removed for further dissection.

In her summer research project, Abigail will develop an all-human model of Parkinson’s disease to understand the mechanism of the disease and if iron affects it. She will validate her novel human-cell model of Parkinson’s disease by demonstrating that the dopamine level decreases when the human cells experience Parkinson’s disease. She will then study how iron effects this change in dopamine level. Her research could allow the disease mechanism of Parkinson’s disease to be discovered, potentially leading to the development of treatments that tackle the cause of the disease and helping to replace cruel animal experiments in Parkinson’s disease research.

Research is imperative to the development of the biomedical field. It allows knowledge and understanding of disease – permitting advances in diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease cause and its induced symptoms. As a future biomedical scientist, my summer research project will help me strive for animal free research. The development of an all-human model could provide a humane and valid animal-replacement model for studying Parkinson’s disease.

Page last modified on February 5, 2020 4:17 pm

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Summer Student 2019: Deyna Jenkins

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Summer Student 2019: Deyna Jenkins

Supervised by Dr Daniel Kelly at Sheffield Hallam University, Deyna will develop an animal free 3D cell model of human muscle contraction to help replace experiments on mice and rats in exercise related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

When your muscles contract, they secrete unique proteins, called myokines. The beneficial effects of exercise are considered to be partly due to myokines because they can influence other tissues in the body to affect the way fats and sugars are processed. Understanding the pathways involved in the release of myokines from muscle contraction therefore could have huge implications for improving the treatment of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Unfortunately, live animals are frequently experimented on to study muscle function and the production of myokine during exercise. Mice and rats can be force-fed drugs or fatty diets to make them obese, before being forced to exercise. Even when they are tired and want to stop, they may be given electric shocks to force them to continue exercising until they’re exhausted. Blood is repeatedly extracted from them by slicing their tails open. They are then all killed, and their muscles are cut out for further experiments.

In her summer research project, Deyna will use human cells and proteins to develop a novel 3D model of skeletal muscle, which has the ability to contract and mimic what happens to muscles when you exercise. She will then identify, isolate, and characterise the secreted myokines, which can then be used to investigate their role in obesity and related diseases.

Deyna’s animal free model of muscle contraction could accelerate knowledge about the mechanisms behind the benefits of exercise. Ultimately, her research could help enhance the possibility of using beneficial myokines as a treatment to target the way fats and sugars are processed in the body and improve outcomes in diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and related cardiovascular diseases – as well as helping replace experiments on rats and mice.

It has become apparent to me through the use of many different reagents and through my literature searches as part of my degree, how much animals are relied on for research. Many animals endure pain and suffering to generate information that may not be relevant to human disease at all. I believe that much more can be done to reduce the numbers of animals experimented on in research and ultimately replace animals altogether.

Working in the laboratory has been the highlight of my undergraduate degree so far. My summer research project will give me the opportunity to be involved specifically in research where I can immerse myself in a project and see my contribution benefiting medical research. Not only will my summer research project provide me with great confidence and independence in the laboratory, but it will also provide me with an insight into non-animal research that is relevant to humans, which I would like to pursue in my future career.

Page last modified on June 22, 2021 1:47 pm

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Summer Student 2019: Keerthana Sasitharan

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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

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Summer Student 2019: Katherine Bexley

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Summer Student 2019: Katherine Bexley

Supervised by Dr David Ansell at the University of Manchester, Katherine will use human skin to investigate if she can speed up and improve the repair of human skin wounds and help replace experiments on mice and pigs in skin research.

The NHS spends approximately £5 billion each year treating wounds, and this is set to rise with an ageing population. Delayed wound healing is a big problem for elderly and diabetic people. Wounds that fail to close quickly can become infected, and where treatment does not work, can sadly lead to amputation. Most therapies only involve changing bandages and preventing infection – so there is a real need for drugs that can improve and speed up wound healing in patients.

Animal skin is very different to human skin (humans are far less hairy than most mammals!) and human wounds can heal in a different way to animal wounds. Unfortunately, skin repair research often involves injuring live animals. Pigs and mice can be inflicted with multiple full-thickness wounds (down to the fat, muscle or bone) to see how their injuries heal over time. Sometimes infections are introduced to adversely affect wound healing, causing the animals to further suffer.

In her summer research project, Katherine will use human skin removed during surgery that would normally be thrown away to investigate if she can make wounds heal faster or with less scarring. She will do this by keeping the human skin alive in a dish using only human-derived materials, making wounds to it and then monitoring how well each wound heals after adding different drugs.

Katherine’s research will lead to more knowledge about how wounds normally heal and may find a way to improve the treatment of skin injuries – helping patients with wounds that don’t heal properly. By replacing experiments on animals, her research may better predict which drugs will work in humans.

My summer research project offers the incredible opportunity to advance my research skills while acting to develop and promote ethical scientific practice. As an ethical vegan, I believe scientific research should be for the betterment of all in society, this includes the animals with which we share our planet.

The use of animals in research – inflicting pain on them or exploiting their bodies – has caused me to question my desire to pursue a research career, yet I believe that biological research is where the answers to humanity’s core issues lie. My summer research project offers the opportunity to combine this view in one ethical direction, improving the lives and knowledge of humans without detriment to animals and our planet.

Participating in this studentship, particularly attending the summer school, will allow me to develop the knowledge and skills needed to rethink and redesign existing research methods to eliminate animals. These will act as a foundation to a research career where constructing novel research methods can allow the mechanisms of biology that fascinate me to be studied ethically.

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

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Summer Student 2019: Josan Gandawijaya

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Summer Student 2019: Josan Gandawijaya

Supervised by Dr Rosemary Bamford at the University of Exeter, Josan will edit human cells to understand the role of genes in autism and 3p deletion syndrome to help replace experiments on mice and rats.

Autism spectrum disorder is one of the most common disorders that affects development of the nervous system and brain. However, little is known about the specific underlying cause of autism symptoms, such as problems with social interaction and communication. Autism spectrum disorder is also one of the symptoms of 3p deletion syndrome, a condition that can also cause developmental delays, slow growth and learning disability.

People with 3p deletion syndrome have a rare deletion of a specific section of DNA in their genes (genes act as instructions that tell the cell how to behave and are made up of sections of DNA). Unfortunately, animals are often genetically modified, bred and cruelly killed to study the effects of genetic and developmental disorders. However, experimenting on genetically modified animals is not directly translatable to human disease because attempting to make animals more human-like does not make them human.

In his summer research project, Josan will generate human cells which have three genes missing, in order to mimic 3p deletion syndrome and understand the consequences of DNA deletion without experimenting on animals. To do this, Josan will edit the DNA in a human cell by using a new technology called CRISPR-Cas9 and then study the consequences of this DNA disruption on not only cell shape, growth and lifespan, but also its effect on other genes.

Josan’s research will lead to a clearer understanding of the role of genes in a particular area of DNA and their influence in 3p deletion syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Ultimately, his work could help lead to the development of novel treatments for 3p deletion syndrome and also set a precedent for future gene studies using reproducible human cells, replacing experiments on genetically modified mice and rats.

My summer research project is the perfect opportunity for me to not only participate in neuroscience research, but also jump into the field of genetics by learning about novel gene-editing technologies. I hope to design better disease models through genetically-modified human cells or organoid models that would more appropriately represent human biology, as the disconnect between the anatomy and physiology of humans and other animal species warrants the development of more appropriate models of human diseases.

The Animal Free Research UK Summer Student Programme will be a stepping stone towards my aspirations for becoming an academic researcher. It will give me the opportunity to experience a professional laboratory environment, allowing me to build connections and practice organisational and collaborative skills as I work with other group members. The various cutting-edge techniques that I will learn through the Summer Student Programme will also make me a competitive candidate as I continue my studies after graduation at a postgraduate level.

Page last modified on February 5, 2020 4:18 pm

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Summer Student 2019: Intisar Salah

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Summer Student 2019: Intisar Salah

Supervised by Dr Laura Urbano at the University of Hertfordshire, Intisar will develop a non-invasive tool for detecting, monitoring and treating cancer, to help replace experiments on mice and other animals worldwide used to produce antibodies.

Sadly, one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, finding ways to detect, monitor and treat cancer often involves cruel experiments on mice, which aren’t relevant to humans.

Mice can be injected with chemicals to force tumour growth, have human tumours transplanted into them and be genetically modified so that they develop tumours more quickly. They are then killed at various stages of cancer growth so that researchers can study the evolution of their cancer. Unsurprisingly, the results of these cruel animal experiments are difficult to translate into humans.

The identification of cancerous tumours in patients is also often conducted using antibodies – small biological molecules that can detect target molecules in the body. Sadly, millions of animals worldwide – including hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep, horses, mice and rats – are all forced to produce antibodies, which are then extracted from them by repeatedly draining their blood.

In her summer research project, Intisar will create tiny particles, called fluorescent nanoparticles, which can detect and monitor cancerous tumours without using animals to produce them. Her research will also be able to identify where tumours are located in the body without patients undergoing surgery, because the nanoparticles accumulate in tumours and glow when a specific colour light is shined onto them. Her fluorescent nanoparticles could also be loaded with drugs to selectively deliver them to diseased areas within the body, thereby starting cancer therapy straight away and avoiding damage to healthy tissues.

Intisar’s research could help provide powerful new tools for cancer diagnosis and therapy, giving cancer patients a better prognosis and improved quality of life. Her research could also help replace the millions of animals experimented on every year to study cancer and produce antibodies.

The use of animals in medical research has always troubled me, and this has significantly influenced my past career choices. I strongly believe it is unnecessary and unjustified to subject powerless animals to painful experiments and expose them to stressful environments for biomedical research, sometimes with devastating outcomes. This multidisciplinary project and the additional training provided by the Animal Free Research UK Summer School will allow me to kickstart my research career by developing my research, laboratory, critical thinking, problem solving and networking skills.

Page last modified on February 5, 2020 4:18 pm

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