Using Smarter Science to Tackle Brain Cancer

As a first-year recipient of the NAVS/International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) Graduate Fellowship, Sarah Stuart is passionate about developing better, and more humane, cancer models to improve human health. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Rod Luwor, Sarah has been making great strides developing three-dimensional, cell-based organoid models using patient cells for a kind of brain tumor called a glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive and deadliest types of cancer.

Originally beginning her science education with a major in zoology, Sarah has always been passionate about protecting animals. While conducting research, she had the opportunity to learn methods that involved rodents but found this to be very difficult.

“I believe researchers in this day and age are just expected to ‘get on with it’ and told not to think about the pain or suffering they may be causing the animals. It has become just another part of the job,” Sarah said. “This mentality is not okay, and if an alternative can be found, it most certainly should be used. If I can assist in developing a model that prevents the use of animals not only in my own research but in others as well, that will be a truly important achievement.”

While treatments developed for glioblastoma are often tested in rodent models, “the use of animals as a model of this disease has yet to produce a sustainable treatment…which is partly due to the ineptitude of these models,” Sarah noted.

Sarah’s project seeks to establish a large, patient-derived organoid collection to screen drugs to treat glioblastoma. She will acquire resected glioblastoma tumors from surgeons at Royal Melbourne Hospital in Australia and will generate fifty organoid cultures over the course of her funding. She plans to screen seven new and FDA-approved drugs using these cell models and will then determine if the drugs inhibit critical signaling pathways in the organoids.

Sarah believes that human tumor organoids mimic the human brain tumor environment better than animal models and that “this alternative to animal models will both increase the possibility of finding a successful treatment for glioblastoma while simultaneously reducing animal use in research.” We are very excited about Sarah’s project and the impact it will have in the world of cancer research.

Sarah is also very thankful to have received the IFER Graduate Fellowship to help fund this important research. “This funding will go towards assisting me in my endeavor to prevent unnecessary human and animal death,” she noted, “and I am extremely grateful.”

We’re honored to count Sarah among the growing number of NAVS/IFER fellowship recipients who are leading the next generation of humane scientists. Keep an eye out for videos of Sarah, and other NAVS/IFER Fellowship Recipients, explaining their projects in their own words in the next few weeks! 

Help NAVS and IFER support smarter science—such as Sarah’s—that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by making a donation today.

This entry was posted in News and tagged on January 27, 2020.
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