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Summer Studentships 2023 Roma Fraser

Researcher: Roma Fraser

Location: University of Strathclyde

2023 Summer Studentship winner Roma Fraser is an Immunology and Pharmacology student at the University of Strathclyde. Roma’s research is being supervised by Dr Fiona Murphy at the University of Strathclyde, and she was awarded £4,500. Her research is focused on replacing animal-derived protein supplements in toxicity tests for nanomaterials. 

The problem

Nanomaterials are particles 1000-times smaller than the width of a hair and are used in a wide range of products from kitchenware and sunscreen, to sports equipment and aircraft. Their development has led to an increase in toxicity testing to ensure their safety. But these miniscule particles readily stick together when prepared in liquid suspension making it difficult to interpret specific characteristics such as individual nanoparticle size, surface area or shape when toxic responses are being identified. 

They need to be consistently well separated and suspended with minimal clumping, for toxicity testing, so the solution is often supplemented with animal-derived proteins, like fetal bovine serum. Annually, more than 2 million bovine foetuses are used worldwide to produce approximately 800,000L of serum for scientific research and testing. Alongside the ethical and animal welfare concerns over how serum is acquired, batch-to-batch variability, and contamination risk leads to inconsistencies within experimental data. 

The project

To support switching away from fetal bovine serum it’s important to understand how any such changes may affect toxicity test data. In this project nanomaterial suspensions with different human-derived protein supplements like human serum albumin and platelet lysate (obtained from blood donations) will be compared to the standard animal-derived proteins like bovine serum albumin and fetal bovine serum.  

Roma will assess the characteristics of a panel of common nanomaterials in both human and animal derived protein suspensions. Comparing the effects of changing to alternative human or synthetic proteins will promote the adoption of animal-free alternatives in nanomaterial toxicology.

The potential

To challenge the status quo and support the replacement of animal-derived products while promoting the use of more ethical and sustainable and reproducible reagents, requires evidence. Nanomaterial toxicology is a relatively new, and growing sector, but fetal bovine serum is used widely across the biosciences. 

Roma’s project aims to generate evidence for the replacement of animal sera in a number of cell-based and nanotoxicity assaying techniques with the ultimate goal of providing reliable and reproducible toxicity testing methods which are completely free of animal-derived products.

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