Meet IFER Fellowship Recipient Prashant Hariharan

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In this week’s Science First, we’d like to introduce you to Prashant Hariharan, a recent recipient of the NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. Prashant’s project, which involves creating an organ-on-a-chip model to study hydrocephalus, the abnormal accumulation of fluids in the brain, is in its first year of funding from IFER.

“Presently, researchers induce hydrocephalus in mice, rats, rabbits, ferrets, sheep, dogs or pigs and sacrifice the animals after the experiment is complete,” Prashant noted. “Although a few non-animal models already exist, what sets my model apart is that it uses human cells in a ‘dynamic’ setting, which means that the cells are continuously provided nutrients and signals to mimic the natural environment of the body.”

Prashant pursued working with a non-animal model in his Ph.D. studies, in part because of his interest in organ-on-a-chip models.

“The cost to manufacture an organ-on-a-chip is only a fraction of the price of an animal model, which means that for the same cost, a much larger number of samples can be tested,” he said. “This makes organ-on-a-chip models like mine a very attractive alternative for pharmaceutical companies that want to cut costs.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected Prashant’s research activities, but he remains committed to ensuring that progress continues to be made.

“The building where my lab is located was completely shut down between March and June of 2020,” he said. “To keep my project moving, I prioritized activities that could be done at home, namely paper-writing, statistical analysis of data collected before the shut down and building of tools such as 3D printed syringe pumps.” Some restrictions remain in place, forcing Prashant to work independently on his project rather than working with a team of technicians and undergraduate students.

Prashant is eager to disseminate information about his human-relevant hydrocephalus model and has plans to present his IFER-supported research at two conferences this year: the Cold Spring Harbor Conference on Brain Barriers this spring, and the Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Hydrocephalus Society this fall.

Prashant is thankful to have received funding from IFER to conduct his studies.

“Even the smallest amount donated to IFER greatly benefits projects like mine,” he noted. “The generosity of those who donate to IFER has freed me from worrying about the budget for my project and has given me independence and flexibility in planning experiments. As an international student I cannot receive support through any government fellowships. Being recognized by IFER is of great prestige to me and will empower me to pursue a career of building organ-chips and micro-physiological systems.”

We’re honored to count Prashant among the growing number of NAVS/IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists and wish him well on his Ph.D. research.