Meet our Training Fellows

This page hosts all of the previous and current recipients of the Training Fellowship awards.


Dr Sara Gago

University of Manchester

Training Fellow 2016 - 2018

Research interests: Sara´s research is focused on the investigation of the genetic basis of fungal diseases, particularly allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis (ABPA). ABPA is a progressive lung disease caused by the major fungal pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus. Although the disease is not usually fatal, the economic costs are >£10 billion in the UK per year. Genetics studies led by Dr. Paul Bowyer and Dr. David Denning at the University of Manchester, suggest alterations in pathogen clearance pathways and epithelial barrier function in patients with ABPA. However, the role of these genetic variants in the response against A. fumigatus is unknown. This fellowship will allow Sara to develop a cell culture model to study the pathology of ABPA using bronchial epithelial cells and macrophages carrying the specific mutations. This in vitro model has the potential to replace mouse models of fungal allergy pathogenesis, which entail the development of severe lung disease and mild-to-moderate respiratory distress. Sara will use the model to evaluate differences in the fungal behaviour and response in cells by quantifying fungal growth rate, cell layer integrity, and cytokines and chemokines associated with fungal colonization and infection. Results derived from this NC3Rs Training Fellowship will not only replace a severe mouse model, it will improve our understanding of this disease and contribute to the selection of genes for new diagnostic tests. 


Biography: Sara did her PhD in the Medical Mycology Reference Laboratory in Spain. Her PhD was focused on developing new molecular diagnostic tools for the early diagnosis of fungal diseases. She was also trained on antifungal susceptibility testing and the use of conventional and alternative experimental animal models. During her PhD, she had the opportunity to visit Dr. David Stevens laboratory in EEUU during a 6-month secondment (California Institute for Medical Research, Santa Clara Valley Hospital). Due to the opportunistic nature of fungal diseases, she has always believed that research on the human genetic basis of them was essential to understand the whole picture of fungal diseases. This idea and her long-standing interest in improving the diagnosis and management of fungal diseases have led her to Dr. Paul Bowyer and Dr. David Denning laboratory in the internationally renowned Manchester Fungal Infection Group, granted by the Fungal Infection Trust. The NC3Rs Training Fellowship will contribute to her career development as it offers the best opportunity to study fungal disease in a translational scenario. 


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NC3Rs Grant: NC/P002390/1

Lab page: Manchester Fungal Infection Group

Contact: Email

Dr Deepali Pal

Newcastle University

Training Fellow 2016 - 2018

Research interests: Deepali is a cancer research scientist with expertise in stem cell engineering and non-animal technologies. Her research is primarily focused on investigating cancer-niche signalling networks using cell and genetic engineering tools. Her objective is to engineer an ex vivo drug development platform to enable drug-testing directly on patient-derived cancer cells. Deepali has developed a 3Rs approach whereby primary leukaemia cells can be proliferated on human bone marrow “niche” cells derived from stem cells. This novel platform allows primary leukaemia cells to be cultured in vitro, which has the potential to reduce animal use in cancer drug testing, especially in drug combination studies which require a large number of animals. Deepali will utilise this platform to investigate the cross-talk between the cancer and “niche” cells and evaluate the mechanisms by which cancer cells home in and proliferate in the human bone marrow. 


Biography: After completing her medical training (Manipal University, India), Deepali moved to the UK to complete an MSc degree in Medical Genetics from The International Centre for Life at Newcastle University. She was then awarded a Marie Curie Initial Training Network early career fellowship to embark on a PhD degree. She obtained her doctoral degree in July 2014 on induced pluripotent stem-cell engineering and prostate cancer research. To obtain academic independence and gain wider experience, Deepali transitioned from prostate cancer to leukaemia research. She will conduct her NC3Rs Training Fellowship at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre at Newcastle university.


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NC3Rs Grant: NC/P002412/1

Lab page: Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre

Contact: Email

Dr Mark Rigby

King's College London

Training Fellow 2016 - 2018

Research interests: Mark’s interests include the active and passive propagation of voltage along neuronal cables. By using a combination of the latest genetically encoded sensors to study voltage and calcium in discrete compartments of neuronal axons, Mark hopes to shed light on how voltage propagation and calcium signalling are affected by the presence of mitochondria. Currently, he is developing a human inducible pluripotent stem cell (hIPSC) derived co-culture of motor neurons and muscle on microfluidic devices. This will provide a high throughput and transferable model of axonal functional imaging which has the potential to replace rat and mouse use.


Biography: After completing a degree in Pharmacology from the University of Bath, Mark was accepted onto the Wellcome Trust 4-year Neuroscience PhD programme at University College London (UCL). There he worked with Professor Mark Farrant and Professor Stuart Cull-Candy on presynaptic AMPA receptor auxiliary subunits. After his PhD, Mark was awarded a short-term fellowship from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science to work with Professor Tomoyuki Takahashi at Doshisha University where he studied presynaptic voltage modulation. In early 2015 Mark joined Professor Juan Burrone’s research group at the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology to continue work on axonal voltage propagation.


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NC3Rs Grant: NC/P002420/1

Lab page: Centre for Developmental Neurobiology

Contact: Email

Dr Xiao Wan

University of Oxford

Training Fellow 2016 - 2018

Research interests: Xiao is a tissue engineer, whose expertise is to create artificial tissue to replicate physiological and pathological processes in the human body such as cancer development. She uses mainly human-originated materials, including cell lines which were genetically modified to be immortal, and primary tissue from clinical samples which reflect individual features. She is interested in the application of highly interdisciplinary tools: the integration of engineered hydrogel to reconstruct a physio-avatar with 3D micro-structures; bioreactors designed and built to grow these constructs in a well-defined microenvironment; and customized analysis tools for real-time monitoring and end-point analysis. Her fellowship with NC3Rs will be focused on perfused bioreactors at macro- and micro-scale, to mimic the in vivo microcirculation and interstitial flow. This technique can prevent problems with chemical fluctuation and biological stress to the tissue, caused by manual change of the culture medium in commonly used petri-dish methods, which can lead to unpredictable impact on the final results. The development and validation of a robust and reproducible tissue engineering system has the potential to replace the use of animals in the preclinical evaluation of new therapies for regulating the epigenetic events in cancer. Xiao aims to work with pharmaceutical research groups in Oxford and Beijing to facilitate the adoption of the developed tools.  



Biography: Xiao obtained her bachelor’s degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences followed by a master’s degree in Chemical Biology from Peking University in China. She then came to the University of Oxford, and decided to pursue a totally new subject as a DPhil student: Tissue Engineering. Xiao’s DPhil thesis was focused on developing advanced in vitro models for anti-cancer drug testing as alternatives to animal models in pre-clinical therapeutic evaluation, involving groups in engineering, physics and oncology in Oxford and Beijing. Xiao is currently living in Oxford with her family, who give her generous support in her passion for public science engagement and international cultural exchange. Xiao is proud of being recommended by her students and clients as one of the best science tutors and technology interpreters in Oxford. Her past honours also include being awarded a scholarship by China Oxford Scholarship Fund - referred to in the past as ‘the Chinese Rhodes Scholarship’ - and serving as a four-star youth volunteer in community service preparing for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


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NC3Rs Grant: NC/P002374/1

Lab page: Cell Signalling Group

Contact: Email