Meet our Training Fellows

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

2018 | 2017 | 2016

2018

Dr Deborah Caswell

The Francis Crick Institute

Research interests: Deborah’s research interests focus around understanding the mechanisms of tumour progression in lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer related deaths worldwide. Immunotherapies, which enhance the anti-tumour immune response, have recently emerged as a promising new treatment modality in this field. However, mouse models used to study the disease do not accurately recapitulate the human immune response. This can hamper research aimed at investigating novel immunotherapeutic approaches. In this Training Fellowship, Deborah will test the hypothesis that mice housed in an enriched environment have improved welfare and develop enhanced anti-tumour immunity. To achieve this, she will compare welfare indicators in mice housed in standard or enriched cages (containing running wheels, nesting materials and tunnels). Anti-tumour immunity in each group will be assessed by evaluating tumour burden and immune cell infiltrate after injecting mice with a novel immunogenic cancer cell line. If environmental enrichment is shown to improve mouse welfare, this could have a substantial 3Rs impact by supporting the case for similar refinements to be employed in other murine studies. Demonstration of improved anti-tumour immunity could also facilitate further work aimed at understanding how the immune response can be exploited to develop new treatments for human patients.  

 

Biography: As an undergraduate studying in the US, Deborah majored in Cell and Molecular Biology at Santa Clara University. She quickly developed an interest in cancer biology and subsequently embarked on a PhD in this field at Stanford University in 2011. Her graduate work explored the process of tumour spread in lung cancer and culminated in authorship of 5 primary research papers, including two first author papers and two reviews. After completing her PhD, Deborah progressed onto a Post Doctoral Fellowship at the Francis Crick Institute, where she is currently researching drivers of chromosomal instability.

 

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NC3Rs Grant: NC/S001832/1

Lab page: Charles Swanton Lab

Contact: Email

Dr Diogo Mosqueira

University of Nottingham

Research interests: Diogo is a biotechnologist currently working on the development of in vitro models of the heart condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is a progressive disease caused by a gradual thickening of the heart muscle, ultimately leading to heart failure. Current treatments slow disease advancement, but do not provide a cure. During his PhD, Diogo generated several cardiac cell lines, derived from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). These cells were genetically manipulated using CRISPR/Cas9 to introduce a damaging mutation in the HCM-associated gene MYH7, producing characteristics typical of HCM. Using the model, Diogo identified several genetic components, called long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) molecules, which were associated with the HCM phenotype. During his Training Fellowship, he plans to use the model to gain further mechanistic insight into the disease’s pathology and the role played by lncRNAs. A range of naturally occurring and transgenic animal models have been employed to study HCM. However, owing to species-related differences in cardiac physiology, these models are not entirely representative of the human condition. In providing a more physiologically relevant environment, the new model could accelerate the identification of improved diagnostic biomarkers and targets for novel therapeutics. Validation of the model as a reliable tool for studying HCM will facilitate its adoption more widely as an alternative to existing animal models. Diogo estimates that if 50% of animals employed in HCM research are replaced by the in vitro model, this could spare 2100-5000 animals worldwide over the next ten years. 

Biography: Diogo’s scientific career began with an Integrated Masters Degree in Bioengineering at the University of Porto, Portugal. This ignited his passion for biotechnology and in 2013, he secured a PhD position in the Department of Stem Cell Biology at Nottingham University. During initial lab rotations, he designed and undertook a mini project working on hPSCs in Professor Chris Denning’s laboratory. The success of the project and Diogo’s obvious commitment to working with hPSCs led him to joining Professor Denning’s lab to continue his PhD working with hPSC models of heart disease. The NC3Rs Training Fellowship will enable Diogo to further develop this pioneering HCM model.

 

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NC3Rs Grant: NC/S001808/1

Contact: Email

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Alexandra Iordachescu

University of Birmingham

Research interests: Alexandra specialises in developing 3D tissue culture models for studying the physiology and pathology of bones. It is known that chronically reduced skeletal loading (for example, in ageing or following injury) leads to a reduction in bone mass. This increases the susceptibility to fractures and slows healing. There are several well-established animal models for studying the phenomenon. However, their interpretation is hampered by species related differences in bone remodelling processes and consequently, the underlying pathology is poorly understood. Alexandra will use her Training Fellowship to develop a 3D in vitro model, consisting of human bone cells grown on fibrin scaffolds. To simulate reduced skeletal loading, the cells will be grown in rotary bioreactors, which will keep them in a constantly suspended state. If validated, this approach could provide a more physiologically-relevant environment for studying bone physiology, in a variety of skeletal conditions.  There could also be important 3Rs benefits, since animal models of reduced skeletal loading often employ harmful procedures, such as immobilisation using toxins and surgical resection of nerves. The new system could replace some of these experiments, reducing the number of animals exposed to such techniques.  

Biography: Alexandra began her scientific career with an undergraduate degree in Biosciences at Manchester University. After graduating, she transferred to Kings College, London to study for an MSc in Space Physiology and Health. This stimulated her interest in bone remodelling processes, and she subsequently secured an NC3Rs PhD Studentship to develop an in vitro model of pathogenic bone growth at Birmingham University. After being awarded her PhD in 2018, Alexandra continued her research at Birmingham University as a Research Fellow. This has enabled her to advance the knowledge gained during her PhD to develop medical devices for testing organotypic platforms of bone disease.

 

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NC3Rs Grant: NC/S001859/1

Contact: Email 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Liane Hobson

MRC Harwell

Research interests: Liane’s current research focuses on characterising complex behavioural phenotypes in genetically altered mice. In this Training Fellowship, she will examine how ultrasonic vocalisations (USVs) produced by mice, can be used to predict their behavioural responses. To achieve this, she will use ultrasonic detectors, mouse movement sensors and a high definition camera to record mouse USVs and behaviours. This will enable the generation of a repository of USVs and associated behaviours, for use by other researchers as a tool for interpreting mouse USVs. Mice are a prey species and consequently tend to hide the visual signs of pain and suffering. However, USVs are known to be produced in association with distress and prior to aggressive behaviours, such as fighting. Consequently, USVs could be employed to detect welfare problems before such issues are discovered by routine visual inspections. Ultimately, Liane aims to use the work conducted during her Fellowship to develop a fully automated alert system, which could be rolled out for use in a range of mouse studies. This will facilitate earlier interventions aimed at minimising animal suffering and incidents of aggression. Furthermore, the tool could facilitate a standardised approach to recording USVs in other projects which study mouse behavioural responses, for example to understand neurodevelopmental disorders, social interactions or welfare issues.

Biography: Liane’s career began as an evolutionary biologist, studying complex behavioural traits in a diverse range of mammalian species. She achieved a first class degree in Biology at the University of Leeds, where her dissertation project focused on the environmental impact of bat swarming activity in Kent. This led to further work in the same species, studying vocalisation patterns as part of her Masters Degree in Biodiversity and Conservation. Liane subsequently moved to the University of Liverpool to embark on a PhD in Mammalian Behaviour and Evolution, which she was awarded in 2017. She is currently working as a mouse phenotyping technician at the Medical Research Council Harwell, where she intends to conduct her Training Fellowship.

 

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NC3Rs Grant: NC/S001867/1

Lab page: Mary Lyon Centre

Contact: Email

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017

Dr Scott Davies

University of Birmingham

Research interests: Scott’s research passion is focussed on using advanced microscopy techniques for the study of immune cell interactions with the major cell type of the liver, the hepatocyte. Chronic liver disease (CLD) is one of the world's leading causes of death and is currently the 5th most prevalent killer in the UK. Limited animal or in vitro models are available to help understand the progression of CLD and to identify potential therapeutics. During his PhD, Scott adapted the use of normothermic machine liver perfusion (NMLP) of entire human ex vivo livers for compound testing and drug discovery. He showed that this model produced almost identical results to similar experiments conducted in mice.  The NC3Rs Training Fellowship will allow Scott to develop multiphoton imaging systems of ex vivo livers – both human and mouse – to investigate T cell interactions with hepatocytes, as well as the effects of potential therapeutic compounds. Imaging mouse liver ex vivo instead of using intravital microscopy on live mice overcomes the need for repeated anaesthesia while reducing the total number of animals used. Using donated human tissue alongside the mouse model will provide more relevant information for how immune cells behave in human disease, building confidence in the use of human tissue instead of animals. 

 

Biography: During a 4-year course in Biological Sciences (1st class), Scott won funding to perform conservation work in Cuba. He loved working in a multidisciplinary team and this strengthened his resolve to pursue a career in scientific research. Scott entered an MRC-funded PhD programme to conduct research in liver biology with Dr Zania Stamataki. Over the past 3 years, he developed models to study the effects of treatments on liver cells in mice (in vivo) and humans (ex vivo). Scott is passionate about translational research and gained funding to pursue industrial collaborations, through which he realised that human tissue use can be extended to drug discovery protocols. Scott will be working closely with Dr Stamataki (Liver Immunologist), Professor David Wraith (Immunotherapy expert) and Professor David Hodson (Biophotonics expert) at the Centre for Liver Research, University of Birmingham.   

 

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Scott Davies

NC3Rs Grant: NC/R002061/1

Lab page: Stamataki Lab

Contact: Email

Dr Carola Morell

University of Cambridge

Research interests: The main focus of Carola’s research is to develop a novel in vitro platform to model non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) using human induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs). Although NAFLD affects one-third of adults in western countries and represents an increasing worldwide health challenge, the pathogenesis is still not clear and therapeutic interventions remain limited to liver transplantation for end stage disease. Importantly, mouse models are the only system currently available to study NAFLD, but they do not fully reflect the human pathophysiology. Carola has recently developed an advanced hIPSCs-derived hepatic platform which models the cellular complexity and 3D architecture of the liver. Her objective is to apply this novel platform to develop a human in vitro model of NAFLD. She ultimately wants to shed light on the mechanisms of hepatic lipotoxicity and how hepatocyte damage triggers the cellular cross-talk that leads to inflammation and fibrosis progression. This knowledge can then be utilised to find interventions that prevent this process. The possibility to study the evolution of NAFLD in a human cellular model will allow for the replacement of animal models in the investigation of NAFLD pathogenesis while also providing a new platform for drug screening.

 

Biography: During her master’s degree in Biotechnology, Carola joined Professor Strazzabosco’s Lab (Yale University, USA and University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy) to investigate the pathophysiology of cholangiopathies and the mechanisms of liver regeneration. She further continued her studies on liver pathophysiology during her PhD, when her attention shifted towards mechanisms of liver regeneration during the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In 2015 she joined Professor Ludovic Vallier’s Lab at the Wellcome Trust MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute to pursue her postdoctoral research focused on in vitro liver disease modelling taking advantage of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). The NC3Rs Training Fellowship will provide the best opportunity to develop novel hIPSCs applications focused on the study of NAFLD.

 

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Carola Morell

NC3Rs Grant: NC/R001987/1

Lab page: Vallier Group

Personal page: Carola Morell

Contact: Email

2016

Dr Sara Gago

University of Manchester

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

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

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

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