Erica Warkus

Erica Warkus, a Ph.D student at the University of Hawaii, has received a 2016-2017 IFER Fellowship for her project, “In vitro embryoid body morphogenesis to reduce animal usage burdens in teratogenicity testing and pharmaceutical drug development.” She will be developing a stem cell-based approach to detecting teratogens, substances that can cause birth defects. She will be using aggregated stem cells, called embryoid bodies, to mimic the process of embryonic development. The cells will be exposed to different doses of chemicals—those considered safe and those known to be teratogens—and changes in embryoid body shape will be monitored to see if the test can effectively detect teratogens. Erica and her mentor hope to validate their model so that it can be used to replace and reduce animal models which are traditionally used for these tests.