This week’s Science First highlights the work of Jeremy Velazquez, recipient of the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. Thanks to the generosity of NAVS supporters like you, we are able to provide an annual grant to IFER that, this year, is helping to fund five exciting research projects, including Jeremy’s.
We recently had the opportunity to touch base with Jeremy, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University. His project involves developing human-relevant, patient-specific liver organoid models that will enable him to study drug metabolism and to model liver disease.
Prior to conducting this research, Jeremy gained valuable experience developing human-relevant cell-based models, as he participated in a large research project aimed at creating a body-on-a-chip model under the direction of Dr. Linda Griffith.
“I worked in a large team to establish a complex microfluidic system of interacting human tissues designed to replicate the behavior of real organ interactions,” Jeremy noted. “The project allowed me to appreciate the need and challenges of working on non-animal models that can reflect human physiology but can still capture the systemic interactions of animal studies.”
Now, Jeremy’s research focuses on creating liver organoids created from human-induced pluripotent stem cells. Creating human-relevant liver models offers several advantages over animal models.
“Animal studies are generally faced with challenges for higher variability, differences from human biology, and are lower throughput with longer turnaround times,” Jeremy said. “The model system that we are developing has multiple advantages that make it attractive over the use of animals in these areas. Aside from this, the biggest advantage of our organoids is that they have the potential to be predictive on a patient-to-patient basis. They can be used to predict potential treatment and complications based on each individual’s genetics and are therefore a pioneering force in personalized medicine, which is not a particularly viable avenue in animal work.”
Jeremy has also had the opportunity to share his work with others in the scientific community.
“I have steadily experienced more and more widespread excitement about the human-based liver models I have been developing in the lab,” he explained to NAVS. “At the end of 2017, I presented my work at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases ‘The Liver Meeting’ which is very medical application oriented. The positive feedback and suggestions about the potential uses for our system in assessing diseases and injuries which take advantage of the multiple cell types was very inspiring and encouraging for me.”
Jeremy is optimistic about the direction his project is taking, and about the ability of animal-free alternatives, such as his, to reduce, refine and replace animal use in scientific experimentation.
“I believe there has been a lot of effort by scientists to develop novel human-based models such as organoids,” he said, “and this is ongoing. Funding for these types of studies will certainly facilitate the development of better models. The development of animal-free alternatives will no doubt become more and more prevalent as the alternative models are more able to capture the complexity of in vivo systems.”
Jeremy is also thankful to have support from IFER for his research.
“It is very humbling to be recognized for pursuing alternative/supplemental methods to animal models,” he told us. “These human-based models are very new and exciting but have not been broadly established yet. The opportunity to pursue such cutting-edge research in a direction that also aligns with my interests and goals of liver biology and personalized medicine is not a commonplace occurrence during Ph.D. studies. The IFER fellowship has allowed me some flexibility to pursue these directions where I otherwise may have had to take on other projects due to the restricted nature of funding.”
NAVS wishes Jeremy Velazquez continued success in his project and is thankful for his efforts to advance science without harming animals.
Please click here to learn more about Jeremy’s project.
Help NAVS and IFER support smarter science—such as Jeremy’s—that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments.