13 / 11 / 2023
The FRAME Summer Studentship Grant scheme continues to grow in popularity and the quality and breadth of applications have once again impressed our grant reviewers. The scheme provides keen undergraduates awards of around £2,000-£3,000 to carry out a summer project focused on non-animal research. This is separate to their degree work so really demonstrates the students’ passion and drive to gain research experience in non-animal methods. The students either develop and carry out their own projects, overseen by a supervisor, or take part in a larger research project working within a team.
The Summer Studentships provide opportunities for students to hone their research skills, experience life as a researcher, and gain valuable practice in science communication. Alongside the opportunities the studentships provide the undergraduates, all projects have the potential to support the replacement of animals in research. The students are given money for a stipend towards living costs, allocated on the length of the project, and an award for budgeted and approved equipment and consumables.
This year, out of a very strong field, we’re delighted to have awarded grants to five successful students across the UK.
Craig McHardy: In vitro model to replace the use of live fish in regulatory environmental toxicity tests
Craig McHardy has just completed his undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Plymouth. He’s been awarded £2820 to use an in vitro model of a fish gut to assess bioaccumulation of nanomaterials. The project hopes to demonstrate this model’s potential to replace a current regulatory test looking at the environmental toxicity of chemicals on fish.
It has the potential to replace the use of thousands of live fish in these tests each year. This project is being supervised by Dr Nathaniel Clark.
Read more about Craig’s project development of the in chemico digestibility assays as an alternative for in vivo fish bioaccumulation testing with nanomaterials.
Emilia Cross: Using patient data to study mutations linked to bladder cancer
Emilia Cross is about to start the final year of her Biology (Hons) Master’s degree at the University of York. She has been awarded £2769 to use online genetic data from cancer patients to study specific mutations linked to the incidence of bladder cancer. The aim is to improve knowledge of these mutations and their location. Bladder cancer research is often conducted in mice who have tumours induced using chemical carcinogens. Whilst genetically modified mice can be used to investigate genetic causes of disease, their use is restricted to the effect of specific genes.
Large patient studies such as this can provide much more human-relevant insight into the disease and its impact. This project is being supervised by Dr Andrew Mason.
Read more about Emilia’s project uncovering the tissue-specific role of APOBEC mutagenesis in bladder cancer directly from patients.
Khush Saba has just completed the second year of her 4 year BEng Mechanical Engineering degree at Aston University, Birmingham. She has been awarded £3125 for a project which aims to identify ideal materials for use in an in vitro human blood vessel model that can then be used for heart disease research and future vascular graft development and testing. Heart disease currently affects over 7 million people in the UK so this project has huge potential to improve people’s lives and health. Her findings will be of interest, and use, to other researchers working on these types of blood vessel models.
Currently, thousands of animals are used in heart disease research and projects to test the viability of vascular grafts which this project would help reduce. This project is being supervised by Dr Laura Leslie.
Read more about Khush’s project development of a non-animal vascular model for medical device testing – Materials Selection and Testing.
Maia Kazakova Garcia: Improving induced pluripotent stem cells programming to make human-relevant drug development and disease research more accessible
Maia Kazakova Garcia is currently studying for a BSc (Hons) in Biological Science (Biochemistry) at the University of Edinburgh. The £3016 she has been awarded will allow her to conduct a project learning more about the role of a particular protein (transcription factor) used to reprogramme body cells into stem cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), with the aim of improving iPSC programming to make it more efficient and economic, and therefore more widely accessible in research.
IPSCs offer an alternative to human embryonic stem cells and are widely viewed as holding the key to drug development and disease research which can not only be human-relevant but personalised to be patient-specific. This has the potential to replace the use of animals across all areas of biomedical testing and research. This project is being supervised by Dr Abdenour Soufi.
Read more about Maia’s project: Improving induced pluripotent stem cells programming to make human-relevant drug development and disease research more accessible.
Sarah Orr: Using kidney cells obtained from patients to study the development and progression of cystic kidney disease
Sarah Orr is about to start the final year of an MSc in Biomedical Genetics at Newcastle University and has been awarded £2005. Sarah’s project involves the use of kidney cells, obtained from the urine of patients, to study the development and progression of cystic kidney disease caused by a specific mutation. She is culturing the cells and recording their characteristics to potentially identify biomarkers that could be used in non-invasive urine screening tests.
This project has the potential to replace the use of genetically altered mice to study kidney disease and improve diagnostic tools for kidney disease. 1.8 million people in England alone have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, and it’s believed around 1 million more may be living with it undiagnosed. The project is being supervised by Professor John Sayer.
Read more about Sarah’s project use of urine-derived renal epithelial cells to investigate inherited cystic kidney diseases.
”We’re really proud of our Summer Studentship Scheme and once again this year the quality of projects has improved. After the review process, the selection panel had a tough job deciding which projects to fund from the top scoring applications.” Shares Amy Beale, Head of Policy and Programmes at FRAME. “All five of these projects are interesting and diverse. They reflect the wide range of approaches required to develop alternatives to animals from human data to cell culture processes. It’s particularly nice to have an engineering project in the mix, demonstrating the role different disciplines play in developing non-animal models. We have human-relevant projects aiming to improve disease research, but also projects focusing on replacing the use of fish in environmental toxicity tests. We’re really excited to hear back from the students at the end of these projects.”
The Summer Studentship awards aren’t just about research. They’re projects which contribute, or lead on, to bigger projects that could make a huge difference in the journey to end animal testing. Our Summer Studentship awards are about education, upskilling, and engaging with students who may go on to a research career in academia or industry. In fact, many of our former studentship winners have said the scheme helped them solidify their goals, like Sally Prior who said the experience helped her in her goal to become a cancer researcher.
As explained by Emilia “I am excited to gain more skills in programming and data analysis while hopefully furthering the understanding of bladder cancer progression, without the use of animals” and Khush “I’m really enjoying stretching my knowledge and learning about how engineering, biology and the life sciences are woven together into this project, allowing for me to learn a variety of different skills!”
FRAME’s work has three core themes: funding research, education, and creating change at every level. The Summer Studentship scheme encompasses all of these areas, which is why it’s so special to us and we’re thrilled to be supporting these five exceptional students this year.
To find out more about previous projects we’ve funded, and upcoming grant opportunities, visit our funding for research page.
Want to support our work funding exciting projects and building a better future for humans and animals? Donate to FRAME today.