3Rs Prize winners

20152014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005


Prize winner: Dr Madeline Lancaster, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

  • Lancaster M et al. (2013). Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly. Nature 501(7497): 373-9 doi:10.1038/nature12517

The authors have developed the first 3D model of the human embryonic brain, using human induced pluripotent stem cells which were able to spontaneously self-organise into a structure that resembles the human brain with discrete, interdependent regions. This was achieved using adapted growth conditions, with specialised matrix support and improved access to nutrients through spinning. The paper also describes using skin cells from a patient with microcephaly to create organoids modelling the disease.

Suitability of animal models in studying neural development is limited, as they do not recapitulate the anatomical and functional complexity required to study human brain biology and disease. Developing brain organoids from human tissue is a revolutionary step towards reducing reliance on animals in studying neurological diseases and potentially in the development of new treatments.

Read the related blog post: Mini-brains show great potential to replace animals in studying neurological disease.

Prize winner: Dr Laura Hall, University of Stirling

  • Hall LE, Robinson S, Buchanan-Smith HM (2015). Refining dosing by oral gavage in the dog: A protocol to harmonise welfare. Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods 72: 35-46 doi:10.1016/j.vascn.2014.12.007

The study, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, improves the technique of oral dosing in dogs. Following a framework of objective welfare assessments developed by Dr Hall, the authors demonstrate that a modified, refined protocol can minimise stress in dogs compared to the standard approach.

Most laboratory dogs in the UK are used for safety testing, and oral dosing is one of the most common procedures used during these tests. This paper shows that using seemingly small refinements (positive reinforcement training with food rewards, a signal for dosing, and covering the dosing tube in palatable paste during training) significantly reduces the negative welfare impact of the oral dosing on the dogs. The improved protocol allows researchers to dose dogs more quickly and efficiently, at no further cost. Dr Hall has been collaborating with dog facilities across the UK to maximise the impact of her work and share best practice.

Read the related blog post: Improving the welfare of laboratory dogs.

Highly Commended: Dr Hayley Francies, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

  • van de Wetering M, Francies HE, Francis JM et al. (2015). Prospective Derivation of a Living Organoid Biobank of Colorectal Cancer Patients. Cell 161(4): 933-45 doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.03.053

The paper describes work on developing and characterising a biobank of colorectal cancer organoids obtained from patients’ biopsy tissue. The organoids were shown to accurately reflect the molecular features and diversity seen in the original tumours. More than 80 commonly used or experimental drugs for cancer were tested in the biobank.

Tumour-derived organoids have the potential to replace many studies involving patient-derived xenograft (PDX) mice, including for personalised medicine and drug development. Organoid production is cheaper and has a higher success rate than patient tumour sample engraftment rates in mice. This technology may fill the gap between cancer genetics and patient trials, complementing and in the long run replacing xenograft based drug studies, and allowing personalised therapy design.

Read the related blog post: Cancer organoids: an important new tool in the armoury of cancer biologists.


Prize winner: Mr Oliver Britton, University of Oxford

  • Britton O, Bueno-Orovio A, Van Ammel K, et al. (2013) Experimentally calibrated population of models predicts and explains intersubject variability in cardiac cellular electrophysiology. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 110: E2098–2105 doi:10.1073/pnas.1304382110.

The authors have built a computer model of cardiac electrophysiology that incorporates natural variability. Normally when using a computer model to test how a drug might affect the heart, the effect of the drug on the heart is compared to an average profile of electrophysiology. But this average profile is not really representative of the whole population, where natural variations in heart properties occur from person to person. This new approach has the potential to make computer models that are far more powerful and more predictive of human response, and therefore a more viable alternative to using animals in research. This is the first time that natural variability has successfully been considered in such a model, and the methodology could be applied to other diseases. The methodology has also been developed into a user-friendly software package called Virtual Assay, which is a major facilitator for industry uptake, without the need for specialist programming and modelling experience. The authors are already planning to use the same methodology to build computer models for understanding pain and diabetes.

Read a related blog post: Looking back at the 3Rs Prize: interview with last year’s winner, Dr Oliver Britton.

Highly Commended: Dr Olivier Frey, ETH Zurich

  • Frey O, Misun PM, Fluri DA, et al. (2014) Reconfigurable microfluidic hanging drop network for multi-tissue interaction and analysis. Nat. Commun. 5:4250 doi:10.1038/ncomms5250

Frey’s paper reports on a novel approach to culturing multi-cellular spheroids in vitro. The work is a significant advance in engineering, which brings together the hanging drop method and microfluidics to substantially expand the experimental options for culturing spheroids. Growing cells using a hanging drop approach, means that 3D cell spheroids can be grown without the restriction that may be imposed by a scaffold or a dish. Microfluidic systems allow precise liquid handling including continuous medium and waste exchange, and also allow test substances, such as candidate drugs, to be run through the culture. This is the first time these two approaches have been combined, and the result holds real promise to bolster the predictivity of in vitro research. The microfluidic hanging drop network has already shown that spheroids of cells representing different organs can be inter-connected in physiological order and are able to communicate with each other via metabolite transfer. This is exciting as this capability is one of the first steps towards creating a multi-organ body-on-a-chip model.

Highly Commended: Dr Nicola Powles-Glover, AstraZeneca UK

  • Powles-Glover N, Kirk S, Wilkinson C, et al. (2014) Assessment of Toxicological Effects of Blood Microsampling in the Vehicle Dosed Adult Rat. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Apr; 68(3):325-31. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2014.01.001

It is a requirement in animal safety testing of new medicines that the blood concentration of the medicine is measured.  Historically, large volumes of blood were required to detect the concentration of the medicine. This meant that for rat studies, separate groups of rats were used solely for measuring the concentration while other groups of rats were used to assess the effects of the medicine on the animal.  Advances in the way that blood is analysed mean that, with the right analysis equipment, very small “microsamples” of blood are now sufficient.  Taking a microsample of blood from a rat is a quicker, less stressful procedure than taking a larger volume.  This paper provides the evidence that taking repeat microsamples does not adversely affect adult rats and therefore does not interfere with the ability to interpret these safety studies.  This means that information about the drug concentration and its affects can be obtained from the same animal, allowing a direct link between drug concentration and effect.  This is a major scientific improvement.  It also means that far fewer rats are required on these safety studies.  As a consequence of this work, whenever the sensitive analytical method is available, AstraZeneca now use microsampling routinely in all rat safety tests.  

Highly Commended: Drs Brianna Gaskill and Joseph Garner, Purdue University and Stanford University

  • Gaskill B, Gordon CJ, Pajor EA, et al. (2012) Heat or insulation: Behavioral titration of mouse preference for warmth or access to a nest. PLoS ONE 7 (3): e32799 doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032799.

Mice are commonly housed at temperatures (20–24°C) which humans find comfortable for working in the laboratory. Mice become cold stressed below 30˚C, which can compromise many aspects of physiology and welfare. However, the amount of nesting material required to meet a mouse’s thermal needs has until now been unknown. In this study the authors found out where mice wanted to spend their time, based on combinations of temperature and nesting material. They found that mice prefer temperatures between 26–29°C, but shift from preferring a warmer temperature to a nest when provided 6-10g of nesting material. These results suggest that laboratory mice should be provided with no less than 6g of nesting material in order to build fully formed nests, but 10g or more may be needed to eliminate thermal stress.  These results have the potential to positively impact the welfare of millions of laboratory mice all over the world.


Meritxell HuchPrize winner: Dr Meritxell Huch, Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge

  • Huch M, Dorrell C, Boj SF, van Es JH, Li VSW, van de Wetering M, Sato T, Hamer K, Sasaki N, Finegold MJ, Haft A, Vries RG, Grompe M, Clevers H (2013). In vitro expansion of single Lgr5 liver stem cells induced by Wnt-driven regeneration. Nature 494: 247252.

Dr Meritxell Huch from Cambridge University's Gurdon Institute wins the 2013 3Rs Prize for a Nature paper detailing work carried out at the Hubrecht Institute, The Netherlands, to develop a culture system that enables adult mouse stem cells to grow and expand into fully functioning three-dimensional liver tissue.

Growing hepatocytes (liver cells) in the laboratory has been attempted by liver biologists for many years, since it would reduce their reliance on using mice to study liver disease and would open up new opportunities in medical research and drug safety testing. Until now no laboratory has been successful in deciphering how to isolate and grow these cells.

Liver stem cells are typically found in a dormant state in the liver, only becoming active following injury to produce new liver cells and bile ducts. Dr Huch and colleagues located the specific type of stem cells responsible for this regeneration, which are recognised by a key surface protein (Lgr5+) that they share with similar stem cells in the intestine, stomach and hair follicles.

By isolating these cells and placing them in a culture medium with the right conditions, the researchers were able to grow small liver organoids, which survive and expand for over a year in a laboratory environment. When implanted back into mice with liver disease they continued to grow, ameliorating the disease and extending the survival of the mice.

Having further refined the process using cells from rats and dogs, Dr Huch is now moving onto testing it with human cells, which would not only be more relevant to research into human disease, but also translate to the development of a patient's own liver tissue for transplantation.

Commenting on the new method's potential to reduce animal use in liver research, Dr Huch said:

"Typically a study to investigate one potential drug compound to treat one form of liver disease would require up to 50 live animals per experiment, so testing 1000 compounds would need 50,000 mice. By using the liver culture system I developed, we can test 1000 compounds using cells that come from only one mouse, resulting in a significant reduction in animal use. 

Growing functioning liver cells in culture has been the Holy Grail for liver biologists for many years, so a limitless supply of hepatocytes could have a huge 3Rs impact both on basic research to understand liver disease and for the screening and safety testing of pharmaceuticals.

NC3Rs blog: Mini livers research wins 3Rs prize for animal replacement potential

Highly Commended: Dr Gyorgy Fejer, Plymouth University

  • Fejer G, Wegner MD, Györy I, Cohen I, Engelhard P, Voronov E, Manke T, Ruzsics Z, Dölken L, Prazeres da Costa O, Branzk N, Huber M, Prasse A, Schneider R, Apte RN, Galanos C, Freudenberg M (2013). Nontransformed, GM-CSFdependent macrophage lines are a unique model to study tissue macrophage functions. PNAS 110(24): E2191-E2198.

Recognised for the development of a new method to grow macrophage cells for use in infectious disease research, which would reduce the use of mice by many thousands.

Read more about Dr Fejer's research on our blog: Immune cells grown in lab could significantly reduce animal use in research, or listen to the podcast below:

Highly Commended: Dr Daniel Adams, University of California San Francisco

  • Adams DL, Economides JR, Jocson CM, Parker JM, Horton JC (2011). A watertight acrylic-free titanium recording chamber for electrophysiology in behaving monkeys. J. Neurophysiol 106: 15811590.

Dr Adams has taken inspiration from human orthopaedics to develop a biocompatible, titanium skull implant to reduce infection risk and improve welfare in monkeys undergoing cognition studies where brain activity is monitored directly.

Read more about Dr Adam's research on our blog: Taking inspiration from human orthopaedics to improve research with monkeys, or listen to the podcast below:

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Prize winner: Professor Don Ingber, Wyss Institute, Harvard University

  • Huh D, Leslie DC, Matthews BD, Fraser JP, Jurek S, Hamilton GA, Thorneloe KS, McAlexander MA, Ingber DE (2012). A human disease model of drug toxicity-induced pulmonary edema in a lung-on-a-chip microdevice. Science Translational Medicine 4 (159): 159ra147.

Lung on a Chip -- Wyss Institute from Wyss Institute on Vimeo.

NC3RS blog: Human organ-on-chips: An alternative approach to drug and toxin testing?

Professor Ingber's research, published in Science Translational Medicine, describes an innovative 'lung-on-a-chip' microdevice that can accurately replicate conditions in a diseased human lung, offering a viable alternative to using animals in preclinical drug testing.

The microdevice contains hollow channels lined with living human cells, mimicking both the interface between tissues and the unique physical environment seen in whole living organs. Crystal clear and flexible, it is approximately the size of a USB memory stick.

Applying a vacuum to part of the microdevice allows it to 'breathe', recreating the way in which our tissues physically expand and contract during respiration. In testing it was able to successfully replicate the conditions seen in pulmonary oedema (fluid accumulation in the lungs), and predict results of a new drug for this life-threatening condition, which showed benefit in animal studies.

In addition, the microdevice has allowed the researchers to carry out real-time high resolution imaging on the cells and make accurate measurements of fluid flow and blood clot formation, which are not easily available in an animal model.

Professor Ingber said: "This is precisely the kind of progress that regulatory government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, and pharmaceutical companies need to see in order to seriously consider an alternative approach to animal models."

In their paper the researchers describe how the next step is to apply the technology to other human organs with the goal of one day being able to use it as part of an automated system to test many drugs. While it is not expected to offer an immediate replacement for animal studies, further development and applications of the technology could allow for a more gradual replacement of animal models of human disease.

How the lung-on-a-chip works:

  • Inside the microdevice are two parallel, sub-millimeter sized, hollow channels which are separated by a thin, flexible, porous membrane. This membrane is coated with matrix proteins that normally hold cells together in human tissues. 

  • One side of this membrane is lined with living human cells isolated from the air sac of a lung, and air is allowed to permeate into the channel to recreate the environment seen in a lung. The other side contains human lung capillary blood cells with a blood-like solution flowing over their surfaces. 

  • A vacuum applied to side chambers alongside the channels recreates the way our tissues physically expand and retract when we breathe.

  • Recreating these conditions has been an important step to develop new insights into human lung disease that are difficult to achieve in with animal studies, such as the ability to carry out high-resolution imaging on the cells themselves, observing blood clot formation and fluid flow.  

3Rs Prize winners 2012

Highly Commended: Professor Susan Barnet, University of Glasgow

  • Boomkamp SD, Riehle MO, Wood J, Olson MF, Barnett SC (2012). The development of a rat in vitro model of SCI demonstrating the addictive effects of Rho and ROCK inhibitors on neurite outgrowth and myelination. Glia 60 (3): 441456.

Scottish-based researcher Professor Susan Barnett was commended for research developing an in vitro model of spinal cord injury using rat embryonic spinal cord cells. This has enabled the laboratory to test the combination of drugs being studied using cells from one animal only, representing a 97% reduction had an established methodology been used. This method is being further developed for testing therapeutics more widely.

Read more about Professor Barnet's work on our blog: Challenging the dogma that animal studies of spinal chord injury can't be replaced.

Highly Commended: Professor Gareth Sanger, Queen Mary, University of London.

  • Broad J, Mukherjee S, Samadi M, Martin JE, Dukes GE, Sanger GJ (2012). Regional- and agonist-dependent facilitation of human neurogastrointestinal function by motilin receptor agonists. British Journal of Pharmacology 167 (4): 763774.

London-based Professor Gareth Sanger was commended for research demonstrating the benefit of using human - rather than animal - gastrointestinal tissues for drug testing, which are obtained as part of normal surgical procedures.

Read more about Professor Sanger's work on our blog: Why not use human material for medical research?

Highly Commended: Professor Shuichi Takayama, University of Michigan (USA)

  • Tung YC, Hsiao AY, Allen SG, Torisawa Y, Hoc M, Takayama S (2011). High-throughput 3D spheroid culture and drug testing using a 384 hanging drop array. Analyst 136(3): 473478.

US researcher Professor Shuichi Takayama was commended for developing a 3D cell culture to test anti-cancer drugs, which proved to be more representative of clinical responses than standard 2D 'flat' cell cultures, demonstrating the potential for this method to replace and reduce the use of animals in pharmaceutical testing.

Read more about Professor Takayama's work on our blog: From 2D to 3D, not just a revolution on our TV screens.

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Ludovic Vallier

Prize winner: Dr Ludovic Vallier, University of Cambridge

  • Rashid TS, Corbineau S, Hannan N, Marciniak SJ, Miranda E, Alexander G, Huang-Doran I, Griffin J, Ahrlund-Richter L, Skepper J, Semple R, Weber A, Lomas DA, Vallier L (2010). Modelling inherited metabolic disorders of the liver using human induced pluripotent stem cells. The Journal of Clinical Investigation 120(9): 3127–3136.

Dr Vallier's paper looks at the use of artificial liver cells to model inherited metabolic disorders of the liver has the potential to reduce the number of animals used in this type of research.

The artificial cells, known as human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs), offer possibilities to regenerate damaged tissues and organs, and it is their potential to reduce the number of animals used for screening potential drug treatments that led to Dr Vallier receiving the 3Rs Prize in 2011.

Human liver cells (hepatocytes) cannot be grown in the laboratory and differences between rodents and humans mean that it is rarely possible to recreate the human disease completely in mice or rats or to use cultures of rat or mouse liver cells. Dr Vallier's team took skin cells (dermal fibroblasts) from seven patients with a variety of inherited liver diseases and three healthy individuals (the controls). They then reprogrammed cells from the skin samples back into stem cells. These stem cells were then used to generate liver cells which mimicked a broad range of liver diseases and to create 'healthy' liver cells from the control group.

Ludovic Vallier's innovative study describes the development and validation of a method to produce cells similar to those in a human liver. Such cells could replace animals for some types of early drug testing and could also help us to predict adverse clinical reactions. Using these cells for drug testing could be transformative. Ludovic and his colleagues have well illustrated how addressing the 3Rs converges with improving the quality of science.

Highly Commended: Dr Anna Williams, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh

  • Zhang H, Jarjour AA, Boyd A, Williams A (2011). Central nervous system remyelination in culture - a tool for multiple sclerosis research. Experimental Neurology 230(1): 138–148.

Dr Williams' paper describes a new cell culture method that dramatically reduces the numbers of mice needed to test potential treatments for nerve cells damanged by multiple scleosis.

In multiple sclerosis (MS), immune cells enter the brain and cause inflammation and demyelination, where the protective covering of myelin around nerves is damaged. The brain can repair this damage by a process called remyelination, but this is not very efficient and frequently fails. Researchers have used rats and mice to try reproduce demyelination and to test for possible medicines to help promote remyelination. These experiments use large numbers of animals.

Dr Williams discovered that slices of brain taken from very young mice and grown in a dish, retain the three-dimensional structure and normal cells of the brain and can be used to test the effectiveness of medicines that might improve remyelination. The researchers also automated the ways in which they measured the remyelination, such that analysis now takes seconds rather than hours.

Highly Commended: Dr Stephen Pettit, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

  • Pettitt SJ, Liang Q, Rairdan XY, Moran JL, Prosser HM, Beier DR, Lloyd KC, Bradley A, Skarnes WC (2009). Agouti C57BL/6N embryonic stem cells for mouse genetic resources. Nature Methods 6(7): 493–496.

Research conducted by Dr Pettitt and colleagues at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Insitute has provided a new way of generating GM mice which avoids using two different strains and therefore reduces the number of animals used.

Scientists use genetically modified (GM) mice to study a range of diseases. But producing GM mice can be a lengthy process involving large numbers of animals. For technical reasons scientists often use a particular strain of mice for the early parts of the process. However, they then need to breed the mice with another strain to give animals with the desired genetic background for their experiments.

The 'Black 6' strain of mouse (so-called because of its coat colour) is preferred for many experiments. However, for years GM mice could only be made efficiently in a different strain, '129', from which it was easy to derive embryonic stem cells. This meant the GM 129 mice had to be bred with Black 6 mice for several generations (backcrossing) before the mutation could be analysed on a Black 6 genetic background.

This technique has the potential to reduce the numbers of mice used by hundreds per project. The cells are already in use in an international project to investigate all 20,000 mouse genes, and this can now be done with increased efficiency and fewer animals.

Dr Pettitt's work consisted of deriving embryonic stem cells the starting point for making a GM mouse directly from Black 6 mice, thus removing the need for backcrossing. Importantly, the cells were modified so that they could be easily seen by a difference in coat colour in the mice. This means that mice with the highest proportion of GM cells can be selected for breeding ensuring that only those animals likely to transmit the genetic modification to their offspring are used. 

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Prize winner: Professor Jane Hurst, University of Liverpool

  • J Hurst, R West (2010). Taming anxiety in laboratory mice. Nature Methods 7(10): 825–842

Professor Jane Hurst's research has shown that a new way of handling laboratory mice can improve their welfare and the quality of the science they are used for.

Laboratory mice are usually picked up by their tails. Professor Hurst's study proves this method of handling causes high levels of anxiety and stress which can influence the outcome of experiments. By simply catching the mice using a plastic tunnel or cupped hands anxiety can be greatly reduced. This small change can be easily applied and has the potential to make a big difference to the welfare of every mouse used for research.

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Prize winner: Dr Jenny Nichols, University of Cambridge

  • Nichols J, Jones K, Phillips J, Newland S, Roode M, Mansifeld W, Smith A, Cooke A (2009). Validated germline competent embryonic stem cell lines from non-obese diabetic mice. Nature Medicine 15(7), 814–818.

Dr Jenny Nichols developed an optimised culture medium for growing mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells and utilised it to derive ES cells from non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice for the first time. This could dramatically reduce the number of animals used to study the genetic basis of type 1 diabetes and also has the potential to do the same for mouse models of other diseases.

ES cells are derived from early embryos and can be grown indefinitely in culture. They are a powerful tool in biomedical research because of their 'pluripotency', which means they can be transformed into all the cell types in the body, making them widely used in in vitro experiments and to generate disease models in mice.

Previously, understanding which genes play a role in type 1 diabetes involved breeding NOD mice with strains which had the gene of interest modified. This lengthy process required at least ten generations of breeding, involving many hundreds of animals, before the mice had a suitable genetic background for conducting the experiment.

The derivation of ES cells from the NOD mouse allows its genes to be directly manipulated to study type 1 diabetes without many generations of backcrossing, dramatically reducing the number of mice required per experiment. The NOD ES cells are now freely available to the research community, potentially reducing the number of mice used in tpe 1 diabetes research worldwide.

The new medium, which contains a novel mixture of cell growth factors and inhibitors but no animal products, has also allowed the derivation of ES cells from every strain of mouse tested so far with extremely high efficiency. Dr Nichols' laboratory has made this technology available so that it can be applied to other mouse models of disease where deriving ES cells has previously proven impossible.

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Prize winners: Dr Keith Martin and Mr Thomas Johnson, University of Cambridge

  • Johnson TV, Martin KR (2008). Development and characterization of an adult retinal explant organotypic tissue culture system as an in vitro intraocular stem cell transplantation model. Invest Ophthal Vis Sci 49(8): 3503–3512.

Dr Martin, and his colleague Mr Thomas Johnson, work investigates the potential of stem cells to protect vulnerable nerve cells in the injured retina. Their aim is to develop new treatments for glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, and other eye diseases. Dr Martin and Mr Johnson pioneered a new method for retinal tissue culture that replaces the need for experiments on live animals.

They have shown that the cultured eye tissue remains healthy, maintains its layered architecture, and retains the ability to make new proteins. The tissue also responds to stem cell transplantation in a similar way to the eyes of living animals.

As well as replacing the use of live animals, the new method has brought about an eight-fold reduction in the number of animals used, because eight sections of tissue can be obtained from one rat.

Highly Commended: Mr Charalambos Tymvios, Imperial College London

  • Tymvios C, Jone S, Moore C, Pitchford SC, Page CP, Emerson M (2008). Real-time measurement of non-lethal platelet thromboembolic responses in the anaesthetized mouse. Thrombosis and Haemostasis 99(2): 435–440.

Mr Tymvious was commended for NC3Rs-funded research on refining a mouse model of pulmonary embolism.

Highly Commended: Dr Jenny Morton, University of Cambridge

  • Morton AJ, Skilings E, Bussey T, Saksida LM (2006). Measuring cognitive deficits in disabled mice using an automated interactive touchscreen system. Nature Methods 3 (10): 767.

Dr Morton was highly commended for a paper describing the refinement of  tests to measure cognitive deficits in mice used for neurodegenerative disease research.

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3Rs Prize winner Charlotte GowerPrize winner: Dr Charlotte Gower, Imperial College London

  • Gower C, Shrivastava J, Lamberton P, Rollinson D, Webster BL, Emery A, Kabatereine N, Webster JP (2007). Development and application of an ethically and epidemiologically advantageous assay for the multi-locus microsatellite analysis of Schistosoma mansoni. Parasitology 134: 523–536.

In her research, Dr Gower worked on schistosomes, the worm-like parasites that cause bilharzia, a tropical disease affecting an estimated 200 million people worldwide. The disease can be seriously debilitating, causing long term liver and intestinal damage, and can sometimes be fatal. Dr Gower's prize has been awarded for a new application of DNA fingerprinting which replaces the need for using animals in this research area and improves the value and accuracy of her results.

Dr Gower has taken advantage of recent advances in how DNA can be stored at room temperature and characterised from minute samples in order to collect parasite DNA samples directly from infected people in areas where the disease is endemic. Previously, there was a need to grow the parasites in the laboratory for study by collecting worm eggs from human faeces and using them to infect snails and then rodents.

Highly Commended: Dr John Doe, Syngenta

  • Doe J, Boobis A, Blacker A, Dellarco V, Doerrer N, Franklin C, Goodman J, Kronenberg J, Lewis R, McConnell E, Mercier T, Moretto A, Nolan C, Padilla S, Phang W, Solecki R, Tilbury L, van Ravenzwaay B, Wolf D (2006). A tiered approach to systemic toxicity testing for agricultural chemical safety assessment. Critical Reviews in Toxicology 36: 37–68. 

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Alan Fairlamb and Susan WylliePrize winners: Professor Alan Fairlamb and Dr Susan Wyllie, University of Dundee

  • Wyllie S, Fairlamb AH (2006). Refinement of techniques for the propagation of Leishmania donovani in hamsters. Acta Tropica 97(3): 364–369.

In their research, Professor Fairlamb and Dr Wyllie infect hamsters with the parasite Leishmania donovani which causes visceral leishmaniasis. By using a different route of infection, the duration and severity of the disease in the hamster was reduced without compromising the quality of the scientific outcome.

Professor Fairlamb compared the commonly-used intracardial route of infection with the intraperitoneal route. The results showed that the intraperitoneal route is a simpler, safer and effective method of inoculating the hamsters.

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SioxsieWilesPrize winner: Dr Sioxsie Wiles, Imperial College London

  • Wiles S, Dougan G, Frankel G (2005). Emergence of a 'hyperinfectious' bacterial state after passage of Citrobacter rodentium through the host gastrointestinal tract. Cellular Microbiology 7(8): 1163–1172.

In her research, Dr Wiles infects mice with bacteria from the same family as E. coli to study the paths of infection. Traditionally, every mouse has been infected by putting a tube down its throat to deliver the bacteria to the stomach - a process called gavage.

Dr Wiles tried infecting only one mouse in this way, then putting it in a cage with uninfected mice and letting nature take its course.

The results showed higher infection rates than the traditional technique. But more importantly, the research was refined so that far fewer animals were subjected to gavage, and the new approach also reduced the total number of animals used by improving the reliability of infection.

NC3Rs blog: From making bacteria glow to explaining science on the radio

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