Avatar Zoo - teaching animal anatomy using virtual reality
Animals are essential to train the next generation of scientists understand diseases and develop treatments for humans as well as animals. Therefore, animals are used for educational purposes. Technologies such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can be employed to reduce the number of animals in the future. Prof. Dr. Daniela Salvatori is working on the development of 'Avatar Zoo' together with UMCU and IT. Live animals are replaced by holographic 3D in this flexible platform. With these holograms one is able to study the anatomical, physiological and pathological systems and processes of all kinds of animals. Avatar Zoo won the Venture Challenge 2021 for the development of virtual reality models that can be used for anatomy classes and practical training.
FirstbaseBIO - human brain organoids for studying neurological diseases
Human neurological diseases are still poorly understood, amongst others because animals are used as a model for the human brain. A way to overcome this problem is to mimic human brain functioning in a dish with organoids. FirstbaseBIO is developing off-the-shelf brain organoids on which neurological diseases can be studied. This 3D platform will be formed by reprogrammed human cells from easily accessible sources, for example urine, skin, or mucosa. The proof of-concept brain organoids will be those from patients who are suffering from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare, incurable brain disease that occurs primarily in young boys and is often fatal. With the brain organoid platform, possible medicinal treatments for ALD can be effectively optimised. FirstbaseBIO was nominated for the Venture Challenge 2021 for their development of human brain organoids to study neurological diseases.
Human neuronal cell models for in vitro neurotoxicity screening and seizure liability assessment
Anke Tukker was a PhD candidate in the Neurotoxicology Research group of Dr. Remco Westerink at the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences at Utrecht University. Dr Westerink’s research group investigates the mechanisms of action of toxic substances on a cellular and molecular level using in vitro systems. Anke's project aimed to develop a human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neuronal model for in vitro neurotoxicity screening and seizure liability assessment. Using micro-electrode arrays (MEAs), she showed that these models mimic in vivo neuronal network activity. When these hiPSC-derived neurons are mixed with hiPSC-derived astrocytes, they can be used for in vitro seizure liability assessment. Comparing these data with data obtained from the current used model of ex vivo rodent cortical cultures, she found that these human cells outperform the rodent model. Here research thus contributes towards animal-free neurotoxicity testing. Anke Tukker has won the public vote of the Hugo van Poelgeest prize 2020 for her research on human neuronal cell models for in vitro neurotoxicity screening and seizure liability assessment. Neurotoxicology Research Group, IRAS, Utrecht University: https://ntx.iras.uu.nl/NTX_at_Iras
Human pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes for disease modelling and drug discovery
Berend van Meer did his PhD research in the research group of prof. Christine Mummery at the department of Anatomy and Embryology of the Leiden University Medical Center. In this group, human pluripotent stem cell derived (Organ-on-Chip) models are being developed, mostly cardiovascular models. The work of Berend aimed to understand how well these stem cell based cardiac models can predict the effect of (well-known) drug therapies in patients. Importantly, the outcomes of the experiments were compared to very similar measurements in rabbit heart muscle cells. And while animal models predicted less than 70% correctly, the human stem cell based models predicted almost 80% of the expected effects correctly. The research contributes to understanding the relevance of stem cell based models and strengthens the confidence regulators and pharmaceutical companies have in such models as animal alternatives in the drug development pipeline. Berend van Meer has won the Hugo van Poelgeest prize 2020 for his research on human pluripotent stem cell derived cardiomyocytes for disease modelling and drug discovery. Christine Mummery's lab on Heart on Chip, Disease modeling and toxicity: https://www.lumc.nl/org/anatomie-embryologie/research/902040935402533/
Cartilage-on-a-chip for studying joint degenerative diseases
Carlo Alberto Paggi is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Twente in the research group of Prof. Marcel Karperien and Prof. Séverine Le Gac. Karperien’s lab focus on the biological aspects of osteoarthritic research while Le Gac’s specialize in organ-on-chip development. The project of Carlo Alberto is developing a joint-on-chip platform to create a reliable in vitro model to study disease progression in osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis. The model combines different organ-on-chips aimed at replicating each a tissue around the joint such as cartilage, bone and ligaments. This new technology focuses on better reproducing human models and at substituting the use of animal models for drug research. If you want to know something more about the project and the groups, you can follow the link in the video. Carlo Paggi was nominated for the Hugo van Poelgeest prize for his research on a cartilage-on-a-chip model to study joint degenerative diseases Karperien’s lab of Developmental Bioengineering: https://www.utwente.nl/en/tnw/dbe/ Le Gac’s lab of Applied Microfluidics for BioEngineering Research: http://www.severinelegac.com/ Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carlo-alberto-paggi-76500b135/
Scientific solutions for the gap in translational medicine: skin model platform with melanoma (3D melanoma)
The developing process of a new drug, from first testing to regulatory approval and ultimately to market is a long, costly, and risky path. Noteworthy is the fact that almost 95% of the drugs that go into human trials fail. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 80 to 90% of drug research projects fail before they ever get tested in humans. The value of preclinical research, mainly conducted in animal model experiments for predicting the effectiveness of therapies and treatment strategies in human trials, has remained controversial. Only 6% of the animal studies are successfully translated into the human response. Breaking down failure rates by therapeutic area, oncology disorders account for 30% of all failures. The absence of human-relevant models with receptors, proteins, and drug interactions in the in situ microenvironment leaves a gap in the scientific discovery process of new therapies. In this context, the present work presents the development of a sophisticated in vitro skin model platform focus on boosting melanoma treatment. The results showed a physiological microenvironment of human skin with epidermal differentiation and development of stratified layers (basement membrane, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, and stratum corneum). Furthermore, it was observed the pathophysiological microenvironment of the melanoma with invasion or migration through the basement membrane into the dermis and no epidermal differentiation. Vemurafenib treatment, the gold standard which targets BRAF mutations, showed a decrease in proliferation and invasion of melanoma tumors, with an increase in epidermis keratinization. Melanoma incidence continues to increase year-on-year and is currently responsible for >80% of skin cancer deaths. It is the most common cutaneous form and is known to have the highest mutational load of all cancers. Nowadays, patients with advanced melanoma BRAFV600E mutation can benefit from monotherapies or targeted therapies. Although the initial response rate is effective, disease progression and tumor chemoresistance rapidly occur in the majority of patients. Therefore, the treatment of melanoma remains a challenge, and despite the advances, there is still an urgent need to identify new therapeutic strategies. 3D Model Melanoma is considered one important tool for studying the evolution of the pathology, as well as evaluating the effectiveness of new therapeutic approaches.
Optimizing CAR-T-cell therapy using 3D tumor models and real-time cell imaging
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy accounts for one of the most promising therapeutic advances in cancer immunotherapy. In this form of adoptive cell transfer, T-cells of a patient are engineered to express so-called ‘CARs’, in which the antigen-recognition capacity of antibodies is combined with T-cell activating domains. So far, CAR-T-cell therapy obtained its most impressive results in hematological malignancies resulting in the approval of five CAR-T cell products by the FDA for hematologic indications. However, CAR-T-cell therapy has not mirrored its success in solid tumors. The poor efficacy of CAR-T-cell therapy in solid tumors has, in part, been attributed to the lack of understanding in how CAR-T-cells function in a solid tumor microenvironment. Classical validation methods rely on the use of specificity and functionality assays in 2D models against adherent target cells or target cells in suspension. Yet, by using these models, observations made in vitro may differ greatly to an in vivo situation where tumors are engrafted in 3D structures. We developed a more relevant and translational 3D tumor model using eGFP+ target cells. This allows us to couple 3D tumor cell killing by CAR-T-cells to live-cell imaging, providing an efficient quantification of target cell death. As proof- of-concept, we used a 3D model of eGFP+ glioblastoma cells and CAR-T-cells targeting a pan-cancer antigen. This 3D glioblastoma model allowed us to show that classical scFv-based CAR-T-cell therapy of glioblastoma cells can be improved by nanoCAR-T-cells. Furthermore, combining nanoCAR-T-cell therapy with a genetic approach of nanobody-based anti-PD-L1 immune checkpoint blockade further increased the cytotoxicity of the nanoCAR-T-cell therapy.
Biotransformation of two proteratogenic anti-epileptics in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryo
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryo has gained interest as an alternative model for developmental toxicity testing, which still mainly relies on in vivo mammalian models (e.g., rat, rabbit). However, cytochrome P450 (CYP)-mediated drug metabolism, which is critical for the bioactivation of several proteratogens, is still under debate for this model. Therefore, we investigated the potential capacity of zebrafish embryos/larvae to bioactivate two known mammalian proteratogens, carbamazepine (CBZ) and phenytoin (PHE) into their mammalian active metabolites, carbamazepine-10,11-epoxide (E-CBZ) and 5-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-5-phenylhydantoin (HPPH), respectively. Zebrafish embryos were exposed to three concentrations (31.25, 85, and 250 μM) of CBZ and PHE from 51⁄4 to 120 hours post fertilization (hpf) at 28.5°C under a 14/10 hour light/dark cycle. For species comparison, also adult zebrafish, rat, rabbit and human liver microsomes (200 μg/ml) were exposed to 100 μM of CBZ or PHE for 240 minutes at 28.5°C. Potential formation of the mammalian metabolites was assessed in the embryo medium (48, 96, and 120 hpf); pooled (n=20) whole embryos/larvae extracts (24 and 120 hpf); and in the microsomal reaction mixtures (at 5 and 240 minutes) by targeted investigation using a UPLC–Triple Quadrupole MS system with lamotrigine (0.39 μM) as internal standard. Our study showed that zebrafish embryos metabolize CBZ to E-CBZ, but only at the end of organogenesis (from 96 hpf onwards), and no biotransformation of PHE to HPPH occurred. In contrast, our in vitro drug metabolism assay showed that adult zebrafish metabolize both compounds into their active mammalian metabolites. However, significant differences in metabolic rate were observed among the investigated species. These results highlight the importance of including the zebrafish in the in vitro drug metabolism testing battery for accurate species selection in toxicity studies.
Lung tumor spheroids for onco-immunological research
Lung cancer thrives in a complex multicellular tumor microenvironment that impacts tumor growth, metastasis, response, and resistance to therapy. While orthotopic murine lung cancer models can partly recapitulate this complexity, they do not resonate with high-throughput immunotherapeutic drug screening assays. To address the current need for relevant and easy-to-use lung tumor models, we established a protocol for fully histo-compatible murine and human lung tumor spheroids, generated by co-culturing lung fibroblasts with tumor cells in ultra-low adherence 96-well plates. Moreover, we describe their application potential to study tumor-stroma organization, T-cell motility, and infiltration as well as distinct macrophage subsets’ behavior using confocal microscopy. Finally, we report on a 3D target specific T-cell killing assay that allows spatio-temporal assessment using live cell imaging and flow cytometry. This lung tumor spheroid platform can serve as a blueprint for other solid cancer types to comply with the need for straightforward onco-immunology assays.