The Lush Young Researcher Prize aims to recognise and reward those working hard to eliminate animal testing in science and cosmetics through their research. Katherine Chapman of Swansea University, has won one of this year’s 13 prizes for her work to improve the accuracy of cell based in vitro tests.
All new chemicals that come to market must be safety tested before they are used in products and treatments. An important element of this testing is investigating whether a chemical damages DNA - as this is a major cause of cancer. Unfortunately, this involves using animal-based tests to investigate if a particular substance encourages the growth of tumours.
To determine whether a substance needs further, animal-based, tests, a simple in vitro test is first conducted using human and animal cells. If chemical damage occurs within these cells then the chemical is taken to the next stage of testing, which involves observing whether the substance causes cancer in animals.
Katherine’s research looks at improving the efficiency of the initial in-vitro tests. Currently they can over-estimate the effect of chemicals on a cell, and falsely recommend that further testing is needed. By improving the reliability of these tests, many animals could be spared suffering.
Katherine explains: “My PhD involved working to improve the current initial, cell-based tests by using longer-term chemical treatments, 3D skin models, low doses and human cells.
“More recently, my postdoctoral position has involved developing a test that could potentially contribute to the replacement of the two-year rodent cancer bioassay. Together, it is hoped that these changes will lead to effective safety testing without animals.”
She adds: “I believe that it is extremely important to avoid animal use in science wherever possible. Often, experimentation can cause long-term suffering to the animals and, of course, animals cannot consent to being tested on.
“I also believe that human cell-based tests are likely to provide more relevant information on human responses to chemicals than animals can.”
After winning the Lush Prize, Katherine aims to continue and further extend the research she begun during her PhD.
She says: “It gives me the opportunity to manage a project independently and, importantly, continue work towards replacing animals in the testing of possible cancer-causing chemicals.”