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Summer Student 2022: Tom Whalley

Summer Student 2022: Tom Whalley

Development of a humanised 3D model for osteoporosis research

Supervisor name and institution: Professor Gwendolen Reily, University of Sheffield

Project summary:

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease. Osteoporosis has many contributing factors, but can be caused by hormone changes such as a drop in oestrogen in women after the menopause; leading to a reduction in bone density and increasing the risk of bone breaks. It is estimated that 3 million people in the UK alone suffer from osteoporosis with 500,000 people receiving hospital treatment every year for bone breaks as a result of the disease, costing the NHS around £4.4 billion per year .

Currently osteoporosis is treated predominantly with drugs that help prevent or slow down bone thinning yet many still suffer. In my project I will develop an effective 3D model using human cells which can be tailored to mimic the bone of an osteoporosis sufferer.

My project will then use this model to incorporate the two types of bone cells in the same model, known as a co-culture. Osteoblasts are bone making cells and osteoclasts are bone resorbing cells. They are integral to healthy bone and their interplay is crucial to understanding osteoporosis.

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

Get to know Tom…

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

I want to participate in the summer studentship as I will have to consciously research in an animal free way, which will expose me to new ways of completing research, which I otherwise may not consider. Furthermore, I am passionate about reducing animal use in research. I am also very interested in the disease that I will be studying, osteoporosis, as it has a personal link. My Grandma suffered from the disease, and I saw the debilitating effects of it. Furthermore, my mum currently has osteopenia, the precursor to osteoporosis, therefore any work that I could do to further the understanding of the disease would be very meaningful to me personally.

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

Researching using animal is the norm, with animal free testing often not offered as an alternative. I sincerely hope that this experience, my first researching in an animal free way, can show me that animal free research is a possibility and does not impede successful outcomes.

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

The practice of using animals in research places humans above animals and suggests that their lives are worth little enough to be spent on quenching our desire for knowledge. There is no doubt that scientific inquiry, especially when aimed at alleviating human suffering is worthwhile but alleviating human suffering by inducing suffering on animals is both unnecessary and unjustified. There is no objective reason why animals should act as a model for humans. Although animals are living systems, animals share very different characteristics and disease profiles to humans which makes them an objectively bad model for scientific comparison. Conversely, lab-based models can be tailored to human disease without the need for animals.

How does your project fit in with your degree?

I have specialised in the biomaterials and tissue engineering stream. This project incorporates scaffold fabrication and cell culture skills to achieve its goals. These skills are integral in understanding and developing biomaterials. The hands-on experience that this project will give me means I will have a practical understanding of the field which will develop the understanding I have gained from my lectures.

What are your future plans and career aspirations?

I am starting a PhD in biomaterials at The University of Manchester in September on the topic of fibrotic tissue. I aim to have a career in academia, but I am also interested in gaining experience of working in industry.


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Page last modified on July 7, 2022 8:47 am