SMARTER SCIENCE SAVES LIVES: Meet the Next Generation of IFER-funded Humane Researchers

Each year, the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER), an affiliate of NAVS, offers Graduate Fellowships for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science to support the research of student scholars working to develop more human-relevant models and to lessen reliance on animal experimentation.

Since 1985, IFER has awarded grants totaling more than $1.7 million to promising young scientists who are developing alternatives to animal use in research, product testing and education that will help further NAVS’ mission of ending the exploitation of animals used in science. At the same time, IFER-funded projects are investigating methodologies that hold greater promise of finding treatments and cures that will help people and animals.

Guided by recommendations of the IFER Scientific Advisory Board, which selects projects based on their scientific merit and potential impact on animal use, we are pleased to announce that IFER is funding seven early career researchers who are developing innovative, human-relevant scientific approaches to reduce and replace animal use for our 2017-18 grant cycle.

Two new Graduate Fellowship recipients have been selected to receive an award, and five grants have been renewed.

Among our new awardees is Nicholas Brookhouser, a student at Arizona State University. Nicholas is using a cell-based approach to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, a condition that impacts over five million Americans.

“Reliance on animal models in preclinical studies may contribute, in part, to the copious failed clinical trials related to Alzheimer’s therapy,” Nicholas notes. “I believe a human disease model is necessary to uncover the subtleties of the disease mechanism that may be necessary for therapeutic design.”

Rather than use animals in his research, Nicholas wanted to use a more human-relevant approach. He will be generating three-dimensional neuronal models using cells derived from Alzheimer’s patients and individuals without dementia. He will specifically be investigating how ApoE, a prominent risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease, contributes to disease onset and progression by generating cells that contain different ApoE variants. He will then determine how variations in ApoE influence different traits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Overall, the use of pluripotent stem cells allows us to address many experimental questions that would otherwise require numerous animals to examine,” Nicholas says.

Michael Ferguson, a Master’s degree student in Biomedical Engineering at Boston University, received a Graduate Student Fellowship for his project, which incorporates blood vessels into stem cell-derived organoids to allow them to better mimic the anatomy and physiology of the native tissues they are modeling.

“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 says.

“With that goal in mind, it is obvious to me that we have to work with human tissues. 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.” 

To help improve organoid models, Michael is integrating blood vessels into organoids which would allow adequate delivery of oxygen and nutrients and help the organoids grow beyond their “mini” state.  Doing so would allow human tissues to be grown in the lab which can be used in place of animals in many areas of research.

NAVS is proud to support the work of the International Foundation for Ethical Research and its researchers whose interest in developing innovative alternatives to animal experiments also recognize that better science will not just save animal lives, but human lives as well. 

Please visit to meet this year’s fellowship recipients and learn more about how their cutting-edge research has the potential to reduce and replace animal use in science.

Graduate Student Fellowship Renewals: 

Jean Liou
University of Pittsburgh
Sponsor: Dr. Rocky Tuan 
“Application of Human iPSC-derived Mesenchymal Progenitor Cells to Develop Osteochondral Microtissues for Osteoarthritis Drug Testing.”


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


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


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


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

This entry was posted in News on April 16, 2018.
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