Queen Mary scientists shortlisted for world prize for using human tissue instead of rats

One of the scientists working on human tissue at the Whitechapel lab

One of the scientists working on human tissue at the Whitechapel lab - Credit: QM college

A team of scientists in London’s East End who are pioneering the use of human tissue instead of rats in medical research have been shortlisted for an international prize.

Professor Gareth Sanger and his team at the new National Centre for Bowel Research in Whitechapel are finalists for the Lush Prize awarded for outstanding contributions to replacing animal testing.

The neuropharmacology team from the London University’s Queen Mary campus is carrying out research into new therapies for gut problems, using human tissue that produces more reliable results than in-bred rats or mice.

But the challenge was getting hold of human tissue.

“This involves collaboration with hospital surgical and pathological teams,” Prof Sanger explained.

“We need live tissue, so we have to be prepared to collect samples at whatever time they become available.”

So his scientists have been working with surgeons at the Royal London, asking patients for permission to use part of the tissue that has been removed during surgery and was not needed for diagnosis.

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Live samples are collected from the operating theatre at all hours and taken immediately to the human tissue labs that were opened by the Queen which became operational last year, funded by the Bowel & Cancer Research charity and other research funds.

It means a steady supply of fresh human samples which allows researchers to study the tissues for more reliable and clinically-relevant results.

Prof Sanger added: “I hope this will urge others to recognise the potential alternatives to animal research, particularly when animals are derived from highly inbred strains with unproven relevance to humans, or the diseases are ones which can’t be modelled in animals.”

All 50 shortlisted projects for the Lush Prize have contributed to advancing animal-free safety testing through scientific research, training or public awareness to help bring an end to animal testing. Winners of the £200,000 prize are being announced on November 13.