Investing in Smarter Science Will Pay Dividends…for Animals AND Humans

Supporting human-relevant research is a key component of NAVS’ mission to end the exploitation of animals used in science. To better reach this goal, NAVS, through the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER), offers fellowships to recognize and support outstanding graduate students who are working to promote the advancement of humane methodologies that can spare animal suffering,

For the current IFER grant cycle, we received numerous innovative grant proposals from graduate students describing research projects using non-animal methodologies to advance science. The IFER Scientific Advisory Board was tasked with reviewing applicant research proposals for both their scientific merit as well as for the likely impact the research would have on the reduction, refinement and, most importantly, the replacement of animal use. 

After careful consideration, the Board recommended that seven Graduate Fellowships for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science receive funding. The funding will support several new graduate student projects, the renewal of fellowships awarded in previous years, and an IFER Special Merit Award.

Meet the newest Graduate Fellowship recipients and learn how their work is advancing science without harming animals.

T.J. Puls


Purdue University, Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Mentor: Dr. Sherry Voytik-Harbin
“Engineering Novel 3D Tumor-Stroma to Bridge the Gap Between Preclinical Models and Human Clinical Outcomes”

Existing cancer models, such as mouse models, lack physiological relevance. As a  result, they often fail to predict human clinical outcomes. To overcome these limitations, T.J. will be developing a sophisticated, human-relevant pancreatic cancer model that incorporates elements of the tumor microenvironment—the cells, blood vessels and molecules surrounding the tumor. This model aims to reduce animal use by giving more predictive power to cell-based studies.

Woojung Shin

University of Texas at Austin
Mentor: Dr. Hyun Jung Kim
“Human gut inflammation-on-a-chip for replacement of animal models.”

Dozens of animal models of gut inflammation exist but have limitations including expense, time, ineffectiveness and ethical challenges that can be overcome with this sophisticated, human-relevant human gut-on-a-chip microphysiological system.

With support from NAVS and IFER, Woojung plans to co-culture intestinal cells, gut microbes and immune cells in a human intestinal microphysiological system. She will then examine the effects of probiotic and prebiotic therapies after inflammation is induced, in an effort to reduce and replace animal use in this area.

Danh Truong

Arizona State University
Mentor: Dr. Mehdi Nikkhah
“Studying the biochemical and biophysical influences of fibroblasts on cancer invasion in a tumor-stroma on a chip”

Danh recognized that many promising drug candidates for breast cancer tested in animals fail in human clinical trials. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that preclinical models do not accurately mimic interactions between the tumor and its microenvironment.

With support from IFER, Danh will be creating a breast cancer model which aims to better understand these interactions and will investigate how they affect tumor growth and invasion. His model will also be used to study the responsiveness of cancer cells to drugs.

Having a sophisticated cell-based model that incorporates interactions between the tumor and its microenvironment will advance our understanding of cancer progression and support efforts to discover potential effective treatments without relying on animals.

Erica Warkus

University of Hawaii
Mentor: Dr. Yusuke Marikawa
“In vitro embryoid body morphogenesis to reduce animal usage burdens in teratogenicity testing and pharmaceutical drug development”

Erica will be developing a stem-cell based approach to detect 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—both those considered safe as well as known teratogens. Changes in embryoid body shape will be monitored to see if the test can effectively detect teratogens.

The researchers hope to validate their model so that it can be used to replace and reduce animal models which are traditionally used for these tests.

We wish T.J, Woojung, Danh, Erica and all of this year’s IFER Graduate Student Fellows continued success in their research. We’re honored to count them among the growing number of IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists.

Hear our Graduate Fellowship recipients talk about their projects in their own words at[LINK].

This entry was posted in News and tagged on September 13, 2017.
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