This week’s Science First highlights the work of current NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Fellow Michael Ferguson, a graduate student researcher in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Boston University.
Michael’s research efforts focus on using an in vitro approach to vascularize organoids derived from stem cells. As you may recall, organoids are miniature in vitro organs which mimic some of the structure and function of real organs. They have been creating a lot of buzz lately because these human-relevant models have the potential to reduce, and even replace, the use of animals in many areas of research—from drug testing to models of human development and disease.
But one of the challenges of working with organoids is that they lack an integrated vascular system. This can impair their growth and development into mature and functional tissues. Michael has been working on overcoming this obstacle by creating a simple and low-cost microfluidic device to integrate a vascular system in organoids, entirely in vitro, which will allow them to better mimic the anatomy and physiology of the native tissues they are modeling.
Michael was inspired to pursue this research because he recognizes the value in working with human tissues. “I think that many (if not most) biomedical researchers, whether basic or applied, would ultimately like to see their work help reduce human disease and suffering,” Michael noted. “With that goal in mind, it is obvious to me that we have to work with human tissue.”
He continued, “Even when people use animals for research, treatments ultimately have to be tested in human beings, in clinical trials. There are just too many differences between humans and animals. And as you can imagine, these differences have led to a lot of failed (and sometimes deadly) treatments that were shown to work in animals. In the past, the technology to experiment with human tissues in the lab has been really limited. New technologies such as organoids are reducing the limitations, but are still very limited themselves. So naturally, I was inspired to work on making them better, not just to save animals, but to save humans.”
Michael is in the process of completing his master’s degree and plans to expand on his current work on vascularizing organoids during his doctoral studies.
NAVS and IFER applaud the effort Michael is making toward developing more sophisticated, cell-based, human-relevant research models which have the ability to reduce animal experimentation, and we wish him well in his future endeavors.