This week’s Science First highlights the work of Jaewon Lee, who last year was awarded an International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science.
IFER Graduate Fellowships are awarded annually, through support from the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), to early career scientists who are developing alternatives to the use of animals in product testing, biomedical research and education.
Jaewon is interested in studying human intestinal inflammatory diseases—complex conditions that involve interactions between gut microbes, intestinal cells and components of the immune system. Dozens of animal models are currently used to study gut inflammation. Jaewon chose to take a different, human-relevant approach, however—and it is one that may reduce, and possibly even replace, animals used for this purpose.
Thanks to her IFER fellowship, Jaewon, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, has been working to develop a sophisticated gut-on-a-chip model to mimic the dynamic microenvironment of the human intestine. Under the mentorship of Dr. Hyun Jung Kim, Jaewon has been trained on how to successfully culture human intestinal cells within the gut-on-a-chip microdevice. She can even subject the device to mechanical motion, in order to mimic the wave-like contractions that occur within the intestine during digestion.
Jaewon will be adding gut bacteria and immune cells to this model, to better understand the complex interactions between them and the intestinal cells. She also has a technique to induce inflammation in the model using toxic chemicals that have been generally applied in mouse models. She plans to examine the effect of probiotic and prebiotic therapies after inflammation is induced, in an effort to reduce and replace animal use in this area. Jaewon is currently performing a number of experiments to validate her model and test it to see if it works as expected and can be used for its intended purpose.
Jaewon’s human-relevant model has been designed to address and overcome limitations of existing cell and animal models. “Existing in vitro 2-D cell culture models using isolated human intestinal cells do not represent differentiated normal cell functions…they lack organ-level dynamics such as fluid flow, physical motion or 3-D tissue-tissue interface interactions,” she noted.
“The animal surrogates fall far from accurate estimation of human disease pathophysiology,” Jaewon observes, “due to the species difference between animals and humans in terms of drug responses, transport or metabolism.” She also notes that differences in the gut bacteria between species presents problems for this kind of research.
Jaewon’s approach to studying intestinal inflammation aims to close the gap between what happens in experimental models and what happens in people. She says that using human cells and bacteria “is much more useful than working with animals,” and that she hopes her work “can contribute to reduce animal use in the drug development process significantly in the future.”
The selection process for 2016-2017 IFER fellowship recipients is now underway. However, there is a limited capacity to fund an ever-growing number of worthwhile research projects. Your donation today will help us increase the number of projects that we can support to advance smarter, human-relevant science that does not harm animals.