Tackling Brain Cancer with Smarter Science

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Sarah Stuart, a second-year recipient of the NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship, continues to make great strides toward developing better, and more humane, cancer models to improve human health—despite challenges she has faced working during the global coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah’s project involves developing human tumor organoid models using cells derived from patients with a kind of brain tumor called a glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive and deadliest types of cancer. Animal models, particularly rodent ones, are often used in glioblastoma research, but their use has not led to the development of a successful treatment. Sarah believes this “is partly due to the ineptitude of these models.”

Recognizing the importance of working with human-relevant models for cancer research, Sarah has used the past year to establish several patient-derived organoid cultures, which better mimic the human brain tumor environment than animal models. She is now in the process of examining the effect of different cancer drugs in this model system.

Sarah has faced some challenges with her research because of the global pandemic, noting that fewer neurosurgeries were performed, resulting in fewer organoids being developed than originally planned. There was also a period of time that she wasn’t able to work in the laboratory due to travel restrictions and closures at the lab.

“The pandemic has certainly made progress difficult,” she noted, “however, we have been able to make some headway in spite of this.” Over the past year, for example, Sarah has been able to share her humane research approach with the scientific community, as she was invited to give talks at three different conferences that were held virtually. She also plans to give a presentation this May to Humane Research Australia, an organization that, like NAVS, is dedicated to minimizing animal experimentation.

Sarah is grateful to have received her IFER Graduate Fellowship to help fund this important research.

“The funding from IFER and its generous donors has contributed both to finding a treatment for a brain cancer in which patients only live 12-15 months after diagnosis, and to finding this treatment in a way that will greatly reduce reliance on animals in the future. This funding will go toward assisting me in my endeavor to prevent unnecessary human and animal death, and I am extremely grateful.”

We’re honored to count Sarah among the growing number of NAVS/IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists and wish her well as she works on completing her Ph.D. research over the next year.

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