The Lush Young Researcher Prize aims to recognise and reward those working to eliminate animal testing in science and cosmetics through their research. Antje Appelt-Menzel, a PHD student at University Hospital Würzburg, Germany, has won one of this year’s 13 prizes for her development of a human in vitro model of the healthy blood barrier.
Antje is part of the Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (TERM) - a department focussed on developing realistic human tissue models of various bodily organs, which can then be used to research and test on.
Antje’s project is focussed on the blood brain barrier (BBB) - one of the most important barriers between the blood circulation and the central nervous system. It lets things the brain needs, like water and glucose, in and keep things that would harm it out. Understanding the way the BBB works is key to finding drugs and cures for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's.
Currently, more than 90% of the Central Nervous System drugs that are developed cannot be successfully marketed after the human studies, even though they were first tested on animals or with cell lines. This is where Antje’s research comes in…
Using human induced pluripotent stem cells (that’s cells that can be used to form any type of human cell) Antje was able to develop an “improved model of the healthy blood brain barrier”.
She explains “The human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology enables the possibility to develop patient and tissue-specific in vitro disease models, as well as a generation of more effective personalized therapies and drugs.”
Meaning that, by researching the BBB with a model as close to the real thing as possible, Antje and her team are able to create drugs that are more effective and do not need to be tested on animals.
Antje, like her colleagues, is passionate about furthering the field of toxicology research, while also preventing the suffering of the animals that would be otherwise used in tests.
She explains: “These in vitro models do not only deliver much better scientific results, but also save animal life and prevent suffering. This can really revolutionise future toxicology research.
After winning the Lush prize, Antje is able to put together a team to develop individualised blood brain barrier models, and search for ways to treat Alzheimer’s and Meningitis.