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Summer Studentships 2021 Jia Jhing Sia

Researcher: Jia Jhing Sia

Location: University of Oxford

2021 Summer Studentship winner Jia Jhing Sia, a student at the University of Oxford, was awarded £2,960 to help develop models to replace animal use in stroke research.

The problem

Pericyte cells are found in the lining of blood vessels throughout the body and in the brain, and they are particularly important in stabilising and maintaining vessel function. Cerebral small vessel diseases are a group of neurological disorders that affect the structure and function of these small blood vessels. This disease has been shown to be a major cause of strokes and contribute to over 50% of dementia cases, with brain vessel dysfunction linked to decline of cognitive function with age. However, despite the high incidence of stroke and dementia, very little is known about the underlying causes of cerebral small vessel disease. Understanding how dysfunction of pericytes might lead to disease may help to reveal new approaches to treatment and care.

The project

Jia Jhing Sia’s project: ‘Delineating pericyte contribution to hereditary cerebral small vessel disease using organ on chip technologies’aims to use in vitro, organ-on-a-chip culture systems to investigate the role of a type of cell called a ‘pericyte’ in diseases that affect the blood vessels in the brain, causing strokes and dementia.

“Neurological disease modelling is, unfortunately, an area that is still largely dominated by animal research and testing owing to the limitations of investigating human brains in patients, and the complexity of modelling the human central nervous system (CNS) in the lab. The urgent need to develop new, non-animal CNS models is highlighted by contradictory findings in animal models of neurological diseases. This is in the main due to the significant variation shown between different species and is reflected in the low success rate seen in clinical trials for drugs treating the nervous system. There is an urgent need for more human-relevant models of the CNS to help investigate disease and predict the efficacy and safety of potential new drugs to treat the brain and nervous system.”

Jia Jhing Sia

The potential

Organ-on-a-chip models are modern in vitro models that use multiple cell types to recreate a living 3D model of an organ and replicate the flow of chemicals found in that organ. They provide a more realistic environment to predict the behaviour of cells than more simple cell culture methods. Jia Jhing hopes to gain new insights into cerebral small vessel disease by recreating brain blood vessels using cells derived from patients with genetic forms of the disease to understand how pericytes contribute to vessel dysfunction and stroke. Using patient cells provides direct relevance to the disease allowing the study of human cells. By using organ-on-chip technologies to create a realistic environment for these cells, this project hopes to improve the predictive power of in vitro models to study new therapies for cerebral small vessel disease.

Download Jia Jhing Sia’s Full Report ‘Delineating pericyte contribution to hereditary cerebral small vessel disease using Organ-on-Chip technologies

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