Smarter Science Starts Here: Meet This Year’s IFER Fellowship Recipients

This story was originally featured in the Spring 2019 edition of Animal Action.


One of the most important ways that NAVS helps to end the unnecessary suffering of animals is through our funding of researchers who are working to develop animal-free alternatives.

Thanks to your generosity and support of our commitment to advance science without harming animals, each year, through the International Foundation for Ethical Research, NAVS funds graduate student researchers who recognize the significance of humane, human-relevant science and are developing non-animal alternatives that have the potential to reduce and replace animal use in biomedical research, product testing and education.

After a rigorous grant review process, we are pleased to announce that for the 2018-19 grant cycle, five students have been selected to receive Graduate Fellowships for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Science. The fellowships will support four new projects and one fellowship renewal. These projects were selected both for their scientific merit as well as the likely impact the research would have on the reduction, refinement or replacement of animal use.

The 2018-19 IFER Graduate Fellowship recipients are:


Joost Brinks 
Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands

Joost’s project seeks to develop a cell-based model to study central serous chorioretinopathy (CSC), a vision-threatening eye disease. Joost will be conducting his studies with human-relevant cells, which have the potential to generate data which translates better to human patients than ocular animal models, which are often used in such studies. It is known that corticosteroids increase the risk of developing CSC, but the mechanism for how this occurs remains elusive. Blood vessel cells derived from patient induced pluripotent stem cells will be examined for their responses to corticosteroids. Results from this study will help researchers better understand how CSC develops and identify new strategies for treatment.


Nicholas Brookhouser

Arizona State University

Nicholas has been developing a human-relevant, cell-based model to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.  He is interested in learning more about how a specific risk factor associated with Alzheimer’s disease, called ApoE, contributes to disease onset and progression. Depending on the versions of the ApoE gene an individual has, their risk for Alzheimer’s varies. Nick is currently generating human induced pluripotent stem cells that vary only by their ApoE genotype, with no other changes to their genetic background. He will differentiate these cells to establish 3D cultures and will look at the influence of the ApoE variants on different traits associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


Ali Keshavaz 
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Ali’s project aims to model a heart condition which is induced by a disease of the lung vasculature called pulmonary arterial hypertension. In this condition, blood vessels in the lungs become narrower, making it more challenging for the heart to move blood to the lungs, which can lead to irreversible enlargement of the heart and patient death. This project seeks to better understand the molecular mechanism behind this disorder by modeling it in a tissue chip which supports the growth of heart cells and lung blood vessel cells. Ali will study the communication between these cell types, examine the effect of sex hormones on the condition as well as the effect of potential therapies. This research has the potential to significantly reduce the number of animals used in pulmonary arterial hypertension research and related areas of study.


Ingrid Knarston 
University of Melbourne/Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Australia

Ingrid will be using human induced pluripotent stem cells to generate testis organoids to study disorders of sex development. While Ingrid’s lab has already successfully generated testis organoids, the reagents used during the process relied on animal-derived products. Her research project seeks to optimize the differentiation protocol to generate testis organoids without using animal-derived products and to generate an alternative to using animal-derived antibodies. Ingrid’s project has the potential to reduce the use of mutant mouse models to study genes implicated in disorders of sex development and will also establish a protocol for testis organoid development that does not rely on animal-derived products.


Jeremy Velazquez 
Arizona State University

Jeremy’s project has the potential to reduce dependence on animal experiments for drug toxicity studies and research pertaining to liver development and disease. It aims to generate patient-specific liver organoid models to study drug metabolism and model liver disease. In this proposal, liver organoids created from human induced pluripotent stem cells will be thoroughly characterized to ensure they are producing the proteins required for proper liver function. The organoids will also be tested to see if they can detect drug toxicity and will be used to examine pathologies associated with the liver to screen for potential therapies.

NAVS is proud to support the work of the International Foundation for Ethical Research and its researchers. Congratulations to all of this year’s Graduate Fellowship recipients!

Visit to learn more about this year’s fellowship recipients and to hear in their own words how their cutting-edge research may reduce and replace animal use in science.


This entry was posted in News and tagged on March 28, 2019.
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