Helping the fight against cancer
These experiments help us create personalised care for cancer patients. Previously, we would implant tumour cells from a patient into 20 mice, treat each mouse differently, and then give the patient the treatment that worked best on the mice.
Using our 3D cell culture, we were able to replicate this research in the lab without using mice. Our results showed that in our structure the cells behaved as predicted — meaning that cancer drugs could be tested to provide the best possible treatment for each individual patient.
A model of human skin
A lot of biomedical research is about seeing what happens when different drugs are introduced to the human body. Another of our projects was a study on psoriasis, a skin condition affecting around 2% of adults in the UK. In order to test different treatments we developed a model of human skin.
Working with Labskin (UK) Ltd, a company based in York, artificial skin was grown in the laboratory and drugs applied to it. By cutting thin sections of the skin, we can use the mass spectrometer to see how far the drug permeates through the skin.
Our technique means we can test any dermatological drug without smearing it onto the back of a mouse, or generating psoriasis in a mouse. Instead of doing lots of experiments on mice, we can use the artificial skin to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. The artificial skin can also be used to study wound healing and infection.
While animals may still be used at a later stage in the research, this extra lab stage means we use far less than before.
A future with less animal testing
As a scientist, I have been involved in many animal tests during my career. By the very nature of scientific experimentation, some of these tests were poor with no meaningful results. By testing on lab-grown cell cultures and artificial skin first, we can make sure that we only carry forward the most promising drug research into live animals.
As well as the reduction in harm to animals, 3D culture testing is cheaper than animal testing, so we’re making medical research funding more efficient too.
And we’re even working with humane research trusts to develop completely non-animal methods of research — something that allows our vegan students to complete biomedical research without compromising their beliefs.
We have started to offer the work from our projects as a commercial service, allowing the big pharmaceutical companies to carry out research using our techniques. This will improve our collective knowledge about the diseases that affect so many of us humans — while reducing the numbers of animals killed in the process.