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Summer Student 2022: Lucille Binninger

Summer Student 2022: Lucille Binninger

Characterising an animal free method to create human neuron-like cells to study brain development

Supervisor name and institution: Emily-Rose Martin, University of Exeter

Project summary:

Neurons are one of the major cell types in the brain, forming networks of connections to process information. There are many different types of neurons and they are all produced from the same stem cells during early brain development – this process is called neuronal differentiation.

Neurons can differentiate into excitatory or inhibitory neurons. Excitatory neurons increase the activity of neurons they form connections with, whereas inhibitory neurons decrease the activity of neurons they form connections with. People with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have an  imbalance of excitatory and inhibitory neurons within their brain, and this may be due to mutations in certain genes that control neuronal differentiation.

Scientists have successfully grown different types of human neurons; however, the supply of these neurons is limited, and they stop growing once they have matured.

The main aim of my project is to establish a new method of differentiating neuron-like cells into mature excitatory neurons without using any animal-derived materials.

Animals project will replace: Mice, rats and monkeys

Get to know Lucille…

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

I saw this studentship as an opportunity to get more laboratory experience while contributing to animal free research. It will encourage me to practice essential techniques and improve my scientific communication skills. Equally, being part of a laboratory team and undertaking the Summer School is a great chance to meet fellow like minded people and create a valuable network for the future.

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

First of all, it will allow me to gain additional laboratory experience that I have not been able to get due to the pandemic. The programme will therefore encourage me to perfect key laboratory skills such as tissue culture, qPCR and RNA extraction which I will be able to use during my research Masters. Additionally, the knowledge I will acquire during the project and through interactions with my fellow laboratory team members will be very valuable for my future research. Most importantly, however, it will teach me ways to overcome the use of animals and animal products in my experiments which I will be able to use in the future to support animal free research.

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

Over the course of my studies, I have come to realise that scientific discoveries using animals cannot be easily translated to humans. In particular when studying the brain, any new insights gathered from studies done on animals can only have a limited impact on broadening our understanding of the human brain given its more elaborate complexity. In addition, I support the global efforts of sustainability and do not believe that experimenting on animals, especially given technological advances that could be leverage to replace them, should be a part of a more sustainable future.

How does your project fit in with your degree?

I just finished my degree in Medical Sciences (Neurosciences) and am therefore grateful to get further laboratory experience in the field of neurosciences. This project has already allowed me to learn a lot about neuronal cells and their role in development while also allowing me to apply knowledge that I have gained from my studies.

What are your future plans and career aspirations?

As a next step in my career, I am doing a research Masters in the field of neurosciences, in particular further investigating neurodevelopmental disorders. Following this, I would aspire to get funding for a Ph.D. studentship in order to pursue my interest in neurosciences – focused research while reducing the use of animals in this field.



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Page last modified on July 6, 2022 3:50 pm