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International 3Rs Prize now open for applications. £30k prize (£2k personal award) for outstanding science with demonstrable 3Rs impacts.

NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

A high-throughput-compatible animal-cell-free miniaturised thymic organoid model for thymus biology studies and in vitro T cell production


At a glance

In progress
Award date
January 2023 - November 2024
Grant amount
Principal investigator
Professor Clare Blackburn
University of Edinburgh


  • Replacement
Read the abstract
View the grant profile on GtR



Why did we fund this project?

This award aims to create an animal-cell free miniature “organoid” of the thymus to replace the use of mice to study thymus biology and produce T cells.

The thymus is a highly specialised organ which produces T cells. Researchers study the thymus to understand how the immune system declines with age and to produce T cells for use in immunotherapy. Currently researchers rely on thymic tissue collected from mice. Given the small size of the thymus, this requires large numbers of mice to be bred and culled. Professor Clare Blackburn has developed a method to generate induced thymic epithetical cells (iTECs) by direct reprogramming of fibroblasts or pluripotent stem cells in the lab. TECs are critical to drive the development of different types of T cells and Clare aims to include the iTECs in a miniature organoid of the thymus to create a physiologically-relevant in vitro model. The new model will allow researchers to produce human T cells in the lab without the use of animals and support high throughput screening of drugs to boost thymus function.

This award was made as part of the BBSRC/NC3Rs joint call for the development of next generation non-animal technologies (NATs).