Two early-career researchers have each received awards of almost £200k over three years to undertake research that will reduce the use of animals in medical research.
The NC3Rs David Sainsbury Fellowship scheme supports junior scientists in their transition to independent researchers. It ensures that some of the UK's best new scientific talent is engaged in research that develops alternative methods to animal experimentation and improvements in animal welfare, while at the same time addressing important scientific questions.
The fellows will focus on the development of an in vitro screen to search for existing drugs to repurpose for Parkinson's disease, and a computer-based mathematical model of the innate immune response.
Dr Maria Herva-Moyano, Centre for Brain Repair, University of Cambridge
Current treatments for Parkinson's disease are only symptomatic and fail to halt disease progression, leaving patients increasingly disabled and affected by drug side-effects over the course of their treatment. The NC3Rs fellowship funding allows for the development of a high-throughput in vitro assay to rapidly screen a library of existing pre-approved drugs and indicate their effectiveness as potential new treatments for Parkinson's disease. The drugs will be screened to inhibit the generation of alpha-synuclein fibrils, a misfolded protein in the human brain which is present in most cases of Parkinson's disease.
Development of this fast and reliable screening process will allow for the detection of drug compounds that prevent this protein from misfolding and aggregating. It will remove the need to use mice for this research until the very final stage, where distress and suffering will be minimised since experimental data for the drugs used already exists. Repurposing drugs for Parkinson's disease in this way could drastically reduce the time and number of animals required to develop a new drug, which is often 10-to-15 years and can involve the use of hundreds of animals.
Ms. Juliane Liepe, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London
Research investigating inflammation, the first part of the innate immune response, typically involves the use of zebrafish. Questions over how cells of the immune system (macrophages and neutrophils) migrate to the site of injury are currently unanswered and could allow for a better understanding of many diseases. Through this NC3Rs fellowship, Ms. Liepe will undertake a detailed analysis of immune cell migration in zebrafish, and develop a 3D, in silico mathematical model of the innate immune response in this species. This data will then be extrapolated to mice and humans.
The mathematical model will allow for better prediction of experimental results by enabling researchers to perform initial experiments in silico before using animals or humans. This is of interest not only as a method to minimise risk in clinical trial patients, but also to reduce the numbers of zebrafish and rodents necessary in drug development by predicting their effect much earlier on in the experimental process.
Commenting on the award of the two fellowships, Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs said: "Supporting the career development of the UK's future research leaders is essential to ensure significant and sustained progress in minimising the use of animals for scientific purposes. Maria and Juliane will join our cohort of impressive fellows and PhD students and we hope they become ambassadors for research to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals throughout their careers."
The NC3Rs announced its first fellows to the scheme in 2012, which is named in recognition of the role played by former science minister Lord Sainsbury of Turville in the establishment of the centre in 2004.
Notes for Editors
For further information contact the NC3Rs media office
About the NC3Rs:
The NC3Rs is an independent scientific organisation which leads on the discovery, development and promotion of new ways to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing (the 3Rs). It is supported primarily by Government, but also receives funding from the charitable and industrial sectors. The NC3Rs has an annual budget of approximately £6.75 million and is the UK’s major funder of 3Rs research.