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Summer Student 2022: Rebecca Thornton

Summer Student 2022: Rebecca Thornton

Developing a tool to replace animal-derived antibodies used for neurological conditions

Supervisor name and institution: Sheree Smith, Leeds Beckett University

Project summary:

The ability to specifically identify different proteins underpins all scientific research. Currently, the most widely used tools to identify proteins are animal-derived antibodies. There are greater than 20,000 known proteins expressed in the human body, so generating tools to specifically identify these proteins is a must.

There is, however, an animal free alternative – the single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) aptamer. Aptamer is derived from the Greek ‘aptus’, meaning ‘to fit’. The aptamer forms unique shapes that enable it to bind specifically to its protein target. Even better, it can be produced in the lab, entirely animal free.

For my project I will generate a ssDNA aptamer to detect a specific human protein receptor called the formyl peptide receptor (FPR1).

Research surrounding the FPR1 receptor has indicated to be key in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, neurological cancers such as glioblastoma, and brain injury.

Animals project will replace: Mice, rabbits, rats and sheep

Get to know Rebecca…

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

Animal welfare has always been important to me, having switched to a vegetarian diet when I was 14 years old after independently researching the widespread effects of the animal agriculture industry. At this age I had limited knowledge of how widespread the use of animals and animal derived products was in other sectors, but I knew that it was something I felt strongly about and wanted to do my part towards reducing. Pursuing further education in the scientific field throughout my A-Levels and degree, I learnt how much scientific research relies on animal research and lab practices involving animal derived products. Wanting to pursue a career in science, I had to acknowledge that these practices do occur, and it seemed as though it was simply an accepted practice in the industry to allow for the progression of scientific research. This led me to question whether I would need to do the same to pursue a career in science.

In order for there to be change in the research industry, there has to be people entering the sector who have the ability to question these methods, research alternatives and educate and encourage others in the field to follow different protocols.

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

An animal replacement summer studentship is an exciting opportunity for me. Being able to undertake a project in the lab where these alternative options are explored is an ideal starting point for an education and career, driven by and guided by animal free methods, where in the future I could do my part to encourage alternatives to be explored further. The project will not only give me the invaluable skills and experience to help with this but will allow me to apply and build confidence in my lab skills and learn new methods. This all being in an animal free way, not only aligns with my personal beliefs, but also makes an excellent starting point for a future in an animal free career, particularly in areas where I may have otherwise been hesitant or uncomfortable to take part in.

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

I think that any aspect of life that can be followed without harming animals should be strived towards. As humans we have a responsibility to limit the harm we make towards other sentient beings and I strongly believe that any research that benefits us as humans, shouldn’t be at the expense of animals. It’s very easy for the general public to turn a blind eye to the methods that are used by scientists to advance medical research for our own benefit, but we have a responsibility to find methods that avoid animal use and educate others on these alternatives. Also, animals are not always perfect models for humans and so the use of animals in some research is not as relevant as it could be. Human based models often make a better option, therefore efforts need to be put into animal free research specifically to find these alternatives.

How does your project fit in with your degree?

This summer project would give me valuable lab experience to help me in my degree and third year project specifically, which is also centred within neurobiology, exploring the differentiation of neuronal cells. Within my final year project, I hope to use human derived SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells in order to keep my data human relevant. Unfortunately, the typical protocol for culturing these cells involves supplementing media with foetal bovine serum and the detaching of the cells uses trypsin, which is often derived from pigs. As these methods are standard practices, taking part in this summer project will be a useful insight into alternative methods that can be used and I am eager to learn ways in which these components can be compensated for, in an animal free way.

What are your future plans and career aspirations?

During my time in education so far, my love for academia and the sciences has always been reflected in my work. Undertaking my degree in Biomedical Sciences and speaking with academics and postgraduate students has developed this interest further and given me insight into the possibility of a career in research. I am eager to pursue this summer studentship to explore this option further and confirm if research is the career path I wish to follow.


You can take action for animals, by uniting with us now!

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.

Support the next generation of scientists who are innovating the future of research, and join us in building a brighter future for humans and for the animals.




Page last modified on July 7, 2022 9:06 am