Catching up with IFER Fellowship Recipient Aline Zbinden

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This week’s Science First highlights the work of Aline Zbinden, recipient of the NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. NAVS recently had the opportunity to touch base with Aline, whose project, “Towards clinical studies on mature beta cell drug testing platform,” is currently in its first year of funding. 

Aline is a Ph.D. candidate working at the University of Tubingen in Germany. She is developing organ-on-a-chip technology to expedite diabetes-related research. While several cell and animal models have been developed over the years to advance diabetes research, they have limitations. Aline hopes to overcome these limitations by using a more sophisticated human-relevant model. 

“[Mouse] models fail when it comes to clinical trials in humans,” Aline noted. “This is mainly due to the complexity of the disease and the species-specific mechanisms which are completely different between a mouse and a human. Therefore, there is a need to develop an in vitro platform with a human genetic background and physiological relevance.” 

Individuals with diabetes have an impaired ability to regulate their blood sugar levels because their beta cells that produce insulin are either dysfunctional or depleted. Aline will be generating functional insulin-producing beta cells from induced pluripotent stem cells, maturing them in vitro, and incorporating them into a pancreas-on-a-chip. By doing so, she will create a human-relevant platform for drug testing, which will reduce reliance on animal models for such studies. 

Aline is optimistic about the direction her project is taking, and about the ability of animal-free alternatives, such as hers, to impact the number of animals used in experiments. 

“My initial push towards non-animal models was when I saw many animals were wasted [in experiments] which could have been spared if we had better in vitro tools. Then I realized how developing in vitro tools is fascinating, as it combines basic engineering, physics, computer science and biology.”

While Aline is enthusiastic about the push towards developing animal-free alternatives, she expressed some concerns as well, including the fact that animal models are often used in experiments found in high-impact publications. “There is a need to change the mindset of reviewers and editors about in vitro work and reduce numbers of animals,” she stated. 

Aline expressed her gratitude to IFER for the support we have given her to carry out her studies by noting, “I am very appreciative to have received funding from the International Foundation for Ethical Research and I’m looking forward to making my contribution.” 

NAVS wishes Aline continued success in her project and is thankful for her efforts to advance science without harming animals. We’re honored to count Aline among the growing number of NAVS/IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists. 

Please click here to learn more about Aline’s project in her own words. 

Help NAVS and IFER support smarter science—such as Aline’s—that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by donating today!

IMAGE: IFER fellowship recipient Aline Zbinden in her lab at the University of Tubingen in Germany