Go North: Expanding the use of the chick embryo model in cancer research to a multiuser facility at the University of Strathclyde.

Why did we fund this project?

This award aims to establish a chick embryo facility at the University of Strathclyde to replace the use of mice in a number of different cancer studies.

A range of in vivo and in vitro models are used to study cancer to reflect different types and stages of the disease. Many are modelled using mouse xenograft models, where cells or patient samples are transplanted heterotopically or into the organ associated with the cancer. Through an NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship, Dr Anne Herrmann developed a platform using the chick embryo to study cancer initiation, growth and metastasis. Cells are implanted into the CAM (explain what this is), a highly vascular extraembryonic membrane, where they form a small tumour that can be used to study tumorigenesis, angiogenesis and metastasis. Anne has generated standard operating procedures for studying multiple cancer types, including breast, head and neck, lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers. Based on current thinking, chick embryos are incapable of experiencing suffering and so can provide a partial replacement for other animals.

To enable further replacement beyond the University of Liverpool, Anne will work with researchers at the University of Strathclyde to set up a chick embryo facility, training end users and a specialised technician. Researchers will then be invited to trial the CAM model in their own studies reducing the barriers to uptake.

Despite significant advancements in oncology treatments, cancer remains a leading cause of death within the UK, causing more than a quarter of deaths annually (CRUK 2017). As a consequence, current research is focusing on the underlying mechanisms of this disease and the development of new effective therapies. Despite recent advances, in vitro models such as 3D co-culture systems still lack important components crucial for accurately recreating the complex tumour microenvironment. Mammalian animal models are therefore most frequently used for the predictive evaluation of new treatments in cancer. The chick embryo is a unique and powerful alternative with many advantages over rodent models, including its ease of use, portability, nutrition self-sufficiency and low cost. It also negates the need for use of a sentient species. It's main advantage when models for tumour formation are considered is the accessibility of its chorioallantoic membrane (CAM), a highly vascularised extraembryonic membrane that is located directly beneath the eggshell. Thus, tumour cells or biopsies of human or rodent origin can be engrafted easily and non-invasively. Tumour formation occurs within days and we have previously developed multiple protocols for the observation of tumour progression and treatment efficacy in malignancies from the breast, head and neck, lung, colon, pancreas and paediatric malignancies using longitudinal in vivo screening, such as intravital, bioluminescent and magnetic resonance imaging.

Here, we propose to expand the use of a novel 3Rs-compliant in vivo tumour and pre-clinical screening chick embryo model for cancer research by establishing a new chick embryo facility in the BPU of the UoS, which will be used to encourage the reduction and replacement of murine xenograft models in cancer.

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Skills and Knowledge Transfer grant




University of Liverpool

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Award date

Aug 2021 - Jan 2023

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