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Award wins for FAL students helping to progress human relevant research

Two PhD researchers in the FRAME Alternatives Laboratory (FAL) have achieved success at competitions which showcased their lab research using non-animal methods.

Syedia Rahman came third place in the Sue Watson Postgraduate Presentation Prize, and Elisa Tarsitano came first in the Future Leaders in Regenerative Medicine: Joint CDT & UKSB image contest run by Bioactive Materials Journal.

Sue Watson Postgraduate Presentation Prize

The Sue Watson Postgraduate Presentation Prize involves University of Nottingham School of Medicine postgraduate research students delivering oral presentations to fellow research students, supervisors and other researchers from the School.

Professor Sue Watson was a greatly respected scientist in the School of Clinical Sciences at the University of Nottingham. She sadly passed away in 2012. Sue believed passionately in enthusing PhD students and early career scientists and helping them to create a stimulating, useful and successful career in medical and scientific research. With this in mind, the School established an event in her memory to reward excellence.

Syedia was awarded the prize for her presentation on her FAL research project, titled: ‘Investigating the role of integrins as a treatment for liver fibrosis.’

Syedia’s project involves the use of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) – the primary effector cells in the development of liver fibrosis (scarring of the liver associated with liver disease) – and identifying the amount of integrin expression in them. Integrins are receptors found in cell membranes that allow cells to interact with other cells and with biological molecules in the environment around them. Integrin inhibitor drugs supplied by the industry sponsor for the project are tested on the model to determine whether they can block or reverse liver fibrosis.

The project aims to provide further information on a potential drug target for liver fibrosis, in addition to offering insights into HSCs, integrin expression and liver fibrosis using a human model. This provides an alternative to using animals in science as most models for liver fibrosis typically rely heavily on the use of rodents.

Future Leaders in Regenerative Medicine image contest

Elisa was awarded first place in Bioactive Materials Journal’s ‘Future Leaders in Regenerative Medicine: Joint CDT & UKSB’ image contest for her submission of a photo taken of her liver research in the FAL.

Pictured is a cross-section of cryo-sectioned slice of human liver adult progenitor cell organoids encapsulated in porcine derived liver-ECM hydrogels.

In this work, porcine (pig) livers were decellularised. This is where the tissue is washed with enzymes and detergent to remove the cells leaving the extra-cellular matrix behind (ECM). The decellularised livers were digested and solubilised to form ECM-derived hydrogels. Human progenitor liver cells were added to the porcine ECM-derived hydrogels to create in vitro liver scaffolds. This novel approach can be utilised to produce a 3D environment that closely resembles the liver, to culture progenitor liver cells and differentiate them into functional hepatocyte-like cells.

This approach provides an in vitro, human relevant model for toxicology assessment and the replacement of animal models in drug discovery.

The ECM for this scaffold was obtained from pig livers that are readily available from abattoirs where animals are killed for human consumption. The use of human liver is the ideal scientific and completely animal-free option, but sadly human liver from surgery is at a premium, with limited availability.

The FAL is working with human liver cells within various scaffolds to refine models to ensure the liver cells grow and develop as they would in the body. Human liver will be used for to obtain ECM for advanced proof of principle work, but in the meantime pig livers present the most scientifically relevant option. This highlights the importance of donated human tissue to progress more relevant in vitro research and reflects the infrastructure required to support the transition to completely animal free research – including the availability of human tissue through hospitals and biobanks. Studies such as the work in the FAL are helping to develop models and methods that will make this transition a reality.

FRAME is incredibly proud of the FAL’s talented students and their vital work researching new and valid non-animal methods, and would like to congratulate Syedia and Elisa on their achievements.

To find out more about the FRAME Alternatives Laboratory, and the work that takes place in the lab, click here.

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