Meet the Humane Science “Class of 2021”

Woojung Shin Back Cropped

Your generosity and commitment to advancing science without harming animals is making a difference in the lives of young researchers around the world.

Continuing our longstanding investment in ending the exploitation of animals used in science, NAVS and the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2020-2021 Graduate Fellowships for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. These fellowships recognize and support outstanding graduate students who are working to promote the advancement of humane methodologies that can spare animal suffering.

This year, fellowships have been awarded to fund three new graduate student projects and the renewal of three previously awarded projects.

The three new Graduate Fellowship recipients are:

Xingrui Mou, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
“Engineered in vitro model of the human kidney for blood filtration and disease modeling”

The goal of this project is to engineer a cell-based model of the human kidney that can mimic that organ’s blood filtration function. Given that a growing number of people are afflicted with kidney disease, a model that can mimic the structure and physiology of the human kidneys is needed. Xingrui will engineer a microfluidic device that can replicate the vascular and urinary compartments of the human kidney and will populate the device with different types of human kidney cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells. He will then conduct tests to examine the functionality of the engineered kidney model and use it to study kidney diseases, while providing the scientific community with an alternative that can reduce reliance on animal models in this area of research.

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Orla Dunne, The Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland
“Further characterization of an in vitro human sensory neuronal model derived from dental pulp stem cells for the study of neuronal responses in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)”

This project seeks to characterize a cell-based model to study neuronal responses in COPD. In respiratory conditions like COPD, nerves in the airway can become overly responsive to stimuli, resulting in a debilitating chronic cough. While researchers often rely on animal models such as guinea pigs, mice and rats to investigate the hyper-responsiveness of airways, Orla seeks to examine the use of neurons derived from dental pulp stem cells to look at neuronal responses relevant to cough research. Redundant human dental tissue is a rich source of human dental pulp stem cells, which can be differentiated into nerve cells over a period of 10-14 days. The cells will be extensively characterized and studied to determine agents that can make them hyper-responsive. The model can also be adapted for other conditions, such as chronic pain or chronic itch, potentially reducing animal use in many areas of research.

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Prashant Hariharan, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan
“Engineering human choroid plexus-on-a-chip as a non-animal model to advance the understanding of how hydrocephalus alters normal CSF secretion”

The goal of this project is to develop a human-relevant in vitro model to study hydrocephalus, the build-up of fluids in the cavities of the brain. In individuals afflicted with hydrocephalus, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) accumulates in brain ventricles, causing increased pressure in those areas, as well as mental decline if the condition isn’t treated. Current treatments involve surgical interventions, which have high failure rates over time. There is a need to develop drug-based therapies, but this has not been successful, because researchers need a good understanding of how CSF is secreted in the brain. This project seeks to create an organ-on-a-chip model of choroid plexus tissue, which forms the blood-CSF barrier, to better understand the mechanisms of CSF secretion, replace animal models used in this line of research, and develop a human-relevant model for drug screening.

Congratulations to this year’s Graduate Fellowship recipients—and thank you to all of the graduate students who submitted applications.

Our ability to support outstanding graduate students dedicated to developing animal-free alternatives is limited only by our available funding. Please consider making a donation today to help NAVS and IFER continue funding smarter, human-relevant science that does not harm animals.