LJMU scientists are backing the replacement of animal experiments in cancer research with a new study that replaces mouse with human tissue.
Pharmacologist and toxicologist Dr Laura Randle designed the study to improve our body’s natural defence to bile duct cancer (Cholangiocarcinoma) which is on the rise in the UK, particularly in areas of deprivation.
The team says the study will not only see a reduction in animals used for research but will, ideally, provide more accurate data and improve drug discovery.
“It’s a win-win and we are delighted to secure this national funding,” said Laura, a senior lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences.
The study is made possible thanks to a grant from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research to fund a PhD Studentship. The Centre receives its funding from the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, both of which are part of UK Research and Innovation.
Bile duct cancer is rare but aggressive and, with only 10% surviving five years after diagnosis, there is an urgent need to improve patient outcomes and develop novel therapeutic approaches, such as immunotherapy.
Explains Dr Randle: “Cancers can hide in plain sight, and often are not recognised by our body’s natural defence – our immune system. Immunotherapy is a game-changing advance which enhances the body’s immune response to recognise and destroy cancerous cells.
“In this study, we aim to better understand why some people respond to this treatment better than others and see if it is possible to modify a tumour so that can be revealed and recognised by our immune system and respond better to immunotherapy treatment.
To do this, Laura and her PhD will grow sections of tumours removed during surgery in the laboratory and treat them with various immune system enhancers and blockers in combination with immunotherapy drugs and assess for their effects on the cancer cells.
It is a collaboration with Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics (University of Liverpool) and surgeons form Liverpool University Hospitals, which is providing human tissue.
“The project will use human tissue to model human disease and will overcome the species differences seen in current mouse models,” adds Laura.
“We need models that can better predict human response. Availability of human tissue has been a problem in the past, hence why people use animals. We have been able to overcome this by working closely with our clinical colleagues enabling us to recruit patients to assist with our research.”
The study builds on Dr Randle’s current NC3RS Skills and Knowledge Transfer award and a North West Cancer Research PhD studentship which will begin in early 2023.
Candidates for the PhD Studentship can find out more here https://www.nc3rs.org.uk/student-vacancies. This study will begin Summer 2023.