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Summer Student 2022: Artemijs Vasjanovics

Summer Student 2022: Artemijs Vasjanovics

Investigating heart damage caused by cancer
and anti-cancer drugs

Supervisor name and institution: Dr Margaret Cunningham, University of Strathclyde

Project summary:

Cancer survivors often experience heart complications many years after their chemotherapy due to the irreversible damage cancer drugs inflict upon the heart. Many studies use animal to explore the reasons why this happens, however in a move away from the use of animals, researchers have established a 3D human heart cell model which ‘beats’ in the dish and contains all the essential cells of the heart.
There have been pilot studies that have used this model and tested biological activities to detect mechanisms of toxicity in response to cancer treatments, however growth of this human cell model still relies upon some animal products as nutrients to keep the cells alive.

In my summer project, I will use animal free products to re-establish the human heart-in-a-dish and compare our animal free system and recapitulate key experiments for comparison with our existing model data sets.

This approach could change the way cardiotoxic screens of drugs are conducted and provide new approaches to guide other researchers seeking to do similar.

Animals project will replace: Rats

Get to know Artemijs…

Why do you want to participate in animal replacement summer studentship?

I see this project as a tremendous opportunity to ‘set the first stone’ in my career the right way. The extent to which research is dependent on animals is truly worrying for me and I see this project as a way to help us to start changing course to a different ethical ambiguity-free way of doing science.

How will the Summer Student Programme help to kick-start your career as an animal free researcher?

Learning a completely new approach to conducting research without using animals or animal-based products, doesn’t get introduced to us during our studies in the university and learning not only these principles but also getting hands-on experience with the technologies that allow us to peruse this approach would undoubtedly leave in the imprint on one’s mind.

Why is research without the use of animals important to you?

I am very passionate about my degree, but when I get asked about what exactly my job entails, I always get looks of horror when I describe how new drugs and therapies are tested. There is a very apparent societal stigma when it comes to experimentation on animals and it’s there for a good reason. Other considerations that one might have been linked with the efficiency of the whole system and the way we screen for new drugs, since you can’t really automate in vivo experimentation, but by introducing human relevant models we could potentially vastly expand our screening capabilities.

How does your project fit in with your degree?

As an Immunology and Pharmacology student, I see this project as being very relevant to my field of study due to the fact that both of my disciplines struggle with cancer treatment and drug toxicity so this project fits snuggly into the scope of my degree.

What are your future plans and career aspirations?

At this time, I am interested in perusing further education like an MSc or a PhD with the end goal of running my own laboratory. These goals are too far away from me now and everything can get flipped upside down in my life in an instant, but I know that my future in one way or the other will be linked with what I enjoy, which is Biomedical Science.



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Many human relevant approaches have been introduced into the scientific world, but unfortunately, the use of animals in medical research is entrenched and institutionalised, with many researchers still viewing animal experiments as the gold standard. This is our time to make change happen. Our work is funded entirely by your generous support, so please make a donation today to help us free animals from laboratories for good.

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Page last modified on July 6, 2022 4:02 pm