Catching up with IFER Fellowship Recipient Joost Brinks

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This week’s Science First highlights the work of Joost Brinks, recipient of the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science, which NAVS helps fund. 

We recently had the opportunity to touch base with Joost, whose project involves developing a cell-based model to study a vision-threatening eye disease, central serous chorioretinopathy, in a human-relevant, animal-free way. The project is currently in its third year of IFER funding. 

Although eye disease research is often performed in animal models, due in part to the complex anatomy of the eye and accessibility of animal models, Joost is using a human cell-based model in his studies. 

“The past year we have been testing the use of human stem cells to model central serous chorioretinopathy,” Joost noted. “These stem cells are directly derived from the patients, allowing us to specifically study how [their] cells behave compared to cells of healthy controls.” 

While Joost has been able to make progress with his research project over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Joost and his lab mates with some unexpected challenges. 

“There have been extensive periods of lockdowns, during which we have been completely unable to perform experiments,” Joost said. “Currently we can do some experiments, but these are still limited by the maximum amount of employees allowed to be in a laboratory at once, and by the fact that many frequently used disposables are out of stock due to the pandemic.” 

But that hasn’t stopped Joost from sharing his research findings and disseminating information about humane and human-relevant models with others in the scientific community. 

“We have presented our results during an online research meeting for Dutch ophthalmologists, who were intrigued by the results,” Joost noted. “We hope to be able to participate in live meetings soon again, in order to spread the word about animal-free research and our interesting results obtained with human cell models.” 

Joost is thankful to have support from IFER for his research, telling us that it “has been of great value in order to be able to perform our studies. We are highly dependent on charity and governmental funds, for which there is a high competition. This IFER fellowship also has helped us to spread the word about animal-free research.” 

NAVS wishes Joost continued success in his project, which he is planning to complete in January 2022. He will then start a residency in ophthalmology and would like to stay involved in research for the rest of his career. We’re honored to count Joost among the growing number of IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists. 

Pictured: IFER fellowship recipient Joost Brinks in his lab at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands