Every May, NAVS attends the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair to choose recipients of our Humane Science Award which recognizes students who are developing non-animal methodologies which advance science. By rewarding students who are conducting exceptional work—without relying on animal models—we hope to encourage the next generation of scientists to continue along the path of developing and promoting humane, non-animal approaches.
In this week’s Science First, we’d like to introduce you to this year’s second place winner, Ryan Onatzevitch from Yorkstown High School in Yorkstown, New York.
Ryan’s project focused on studying schizophrenia. After discussing ways to study schizophrenia with his mentor, Ryan focused on a model created from stem cells, as it seemed like “the best option available,” he noted. “The lab I worked in focused mainly on stem cell methods…and not animal models,” Ryan said. “The stem cell method was also chosen because it could be more easily used to create a large sample size than an animal model could have produced.”
“Additionally, taking the cells from actual patients ensures that the neurons share the exact same genetics as the schizophrenia patients. Animal models do not have this aspect, making models of schizophrenia less accurate.”
In his project, Ryan used stem cells from patients with and without schizophrenia to create neurons in culture. He compared the cells in many different tests, looking for changes in function that could be related to the development of the disorder.
“We found that the cells generated from stem cells with schizophrenia displayed significant decreases in certain processes that are vital in the development of the human brain such as neuronal migration. This stem cell method produced similar results to animal models in certain areas, indicating stem cells as a possible alternative to the use of animals in biological studies.”
Ryan was very honored to receive an award from NAVS. “I’ve always been an animal lover,” he said. “I have four cats, a snake, and fish at home. If you can perform research without harming animals, it seems like the way to go.”
In addition to receiving the NAVS Humane Science Award, Ryan also won the fourth prize in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category from the Intel Corporation, proving once again that humane science is better science.
Click here to hear Ryan explain his project in his own words.