Liver cell discovery could reduce animal testing

Louise Ashwell - News Reporter 8 March 2012

Work by a Cambridge scientist which could be used to reduce the number of scientific tests carried out on animals has been rewarded this week. Dr Ludovic Vallier, a specialist in cells who works for the University of Cambridge, was the recipient of the £20,000 prize sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline and awarded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3RS). His research centred on the potential of human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hIPSCs) to reduce the number of animals used for screening potential drug treatments.

The research undertaken by Dr Vallier and his team involved taking skin cells, or dermal fibroblasts, from seven patients with a variety of inherited liver diseases, as well as three healthy individuals, who represented the control group. These participants’ skin cells were then reprogrammed back into stem cells to generate new liver cells. Use of the cells has already been adopted in several laboratories, and in these establishments has reduced the use of animals for the production of liver cells.

Professor Paul Matthews, vice-president for imaging at GlaxoSmithKline, presented Dr Vallier with a £2,000 personal award, alongside an £18,000 research grant. “Ludovic Vallier’s innovative study describes the development and validation of a method to produce cells similar to those in a human liver”, he said. “Such cells could replace animals for some types of early drug testing and could also help us to predict adverse clinical reactions. Using these cells for drug testing could be transformative.”

Dr Vicky Robinson, CEO of the group NC3RS who awarded Vallier the prize, told The Cambridge Student: “Ludovic and his colleagues have well illustrated how addressing the 3Rs (Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research) converges with improving the quality of science!”

Louise Ashwell – News Reporter