IFER Fellowship Recipient Shares Research Insights at Annual Society of Toxicology Conference

Ken Ishita ISEF New

First year International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) fellowship recipient Ishita Virmani was given an incredible opportunity this past March to attend the annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) conference in San Diego and share her animal-free research on developmental neurotoxicity with more than 6,000 attendees, including scientists, leaders from academia, government and industry.

Ishita is intrigued by the effects chemicals can have on the developing brain. She is currently working on this topic at CAAT, Bloomberg School of Public Health Johns Hopkins University while also completing her graduate work at RECETOX, Masaryk University, Czech Republic.

“We are all surrounded by a countless number of chemicals today,” Ishita told us, adding that because “toddlers have increased mouth-to-hand activity compared to adults, they can get exposed to more chemicals in their developing phase of life.” Because the developing brain is more sensitive to chemicals than the adult brain, Ishita is exploring whether that exposure to chemicals may contribute to developmental neurotoxicity which might lead to the autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hypersensitivity disorders.

Ishita, who is using a human 3D brain organoid model (developed at CAAT) to study developmental neurotoxicity, had a chance to share her research findings during a poster session at the conference.

She has been focusing her research efforts on a particular class of chemicals called flame retardants, which are often added to consumer products like furniture and children’s toys to decrease the risk of fire propagation.

Through her research, Ishita exposes brain organoids to different flame retardants and analyzes the effect of those treatments on endpoints like cell death, cell migration, glial cell generation, and synaptogenesis, the formation of synapses between neurons.

Not only is Ishita’s approach to assess developmental neurotoxicity more human relevant, it is also much more efficient, cost effective and humane compared to traditional approaches, which rely on hundreds of mice or rats to test one chemical.

Given the recent COVID restrictions that limited in-person science conferences over the last few years, Ishita was excited to attend the in-person meeting in San Diego. She received constructive feedback on her work and suggestions for future experiments. While at SOT, she also had the opportunity to share her research progress with NAVS Executive Director and IFER President Kenneth Kandaras. NAVS and IFER are pleased to support Ishita, and graduate students like her, who are choosing to work with non-animal approaches to advance science in a human-relevant way! Learn more about Ishita’s project here.