Using Smarter Science to Study Disorders of Sex Development

Ingrid in the lab

Ingrid Knarston has been a NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellow for just a few months, but in that time, thanks to the generosity of NAVS supporters like you, she has made great strides developing a cell-based alternative to the use of mice in studies of sex development disorders. 

Ingrid, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Melbourne/Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, is interested in understanding conditions in which reproductive organs, specifically the testes, develop abnormally. One of the goals of the research group she works with is to identify gene variants underlying these conditions to provide patients with more accurate diagnoses.

“Traditionally these gene variants have been studied in mouse models,” Ingrid noted. “My project is developing an animal-free alternative using human induced pluripotent stem cells.” Ingrid’s project involves identifying the factors needed to stimulate the stem cells to develop into testis cells. “These human testis cells will provide us with a much-needed model of the developing human testis and eliminate the use of mice in this field of research,” she said.   

Ingrid was inspired to develop an animal-free alternative model because of the successes she had witnessed with other human-relevant, cell-based models.

“At the start of my Ph.D., I was exposed to the work of Prof. Melissa Little and Dr. Minoru Takasato, who developed a model of the human kidney from induced pluripotent stem cells,” Ingrid noted. “This work really kick-started my fascination with the potential of induced pluripotent stem cells for studying human development and disease without having to rely on animal models. When an opportunity arose during my Ph.D. to contribute to the development of a stem cell model for disorders of sex development, I jumped at the chance.”

Concerned that many of the reagents used to culture human stem cell models rely on animal-derived substances, Ingrid is also investigating ways to replace the use of these products to make the protocols fully animal free.

Ingrid had the opportunity to share data from her animal-free model at the International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting last year. She received overwhelmingly positive feedback from leading scientists, particularly those researching the development of germ cells, the cells that give rise to eggs and sperm.  Ingrid believes that her work would be valuable to these researchers, as they can collaborate to develop more complete human-relevant models.

And it’s because of supporters like you that Ingrid was able to secure the support from IFER that she is so thankful for.

“We hope that [our research] will lead to others in the field adopting similar animal-free approaches.  I would like to extend a huge thank you for IFER fellowship support. It has been a huge honor to receive this recognition and I am excited to contribute to the development of animal-free research methodologies.”

You can support the advancement of humane research like Ingrid’s. Your donation today will advance discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on April 1, 2019.
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