Adjanie Patabendige from the University of Liverpool has been awarded the David Sainsbury Fellowship in recognition of her work in developing cell culture models to reduce the numbers of animals used in brain infection research.
Patabendige will use the Fellowship, awarded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), to build a three-dimensional model of the protective barrier that separates the blood from the brain, which in healthy individuals prevents viruses from entering the brain.
Viral infections such as Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) can disrupt the protective barrier of the brain – the blood-brain barrier - allowing virus particles and immune cells into the brain, resulting in inflammation and swelling.
Almost all experiments to study viral brain infections have to be carried out on animals or animal cell cultures as it is difficult to study the disease mechanisms in human subjects. It is estimated that more than 120,000 animals have been used to study encephalitis in the last 10 years, but Patabendige’s work in developing in vitro models to study how these viruses enter the brain could significantly reduce the numbers of animals needed for research.
Patabendige, from the University’s Institute of Infection and Global Health , said: "This Fellowship will give me the opportunity to continue my work in developing in vitro blood-brain barrier models and reduce the numbers of animals used for studying encephalitis. The 3D human blood-brain barrier model will also be a useful tool for testing potential drugs for treating viral encephalitis and other neurological diseases."
Patabendige’s 3D model aims to resemble infection in the human brain. Cells in the blood-brain barrier are linked tightly together to protect the brain, but damage to these tight junctions is evident in viral encephalitis. The research model aims to demonstrate the disruption to the blood-brain barrier caused by viral infections, leading to damage to the cell junctions that allows viruses and immune cells to enter the brain.
The David Sainsbury Fellowship scheme is named in honour of Lord Sainsbury, the former minister for science who was responsible for setting up the NC3Rs. Four fellowships have been given to exceptional scientists who are at an early stage in their careers to enable them to establish independent research careers while developing alternatives to animal experimentation and improving animal welfare.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville said: “The awards have been made to an impressive group of early career scientists who I am sure will, as a result of their fellowships, be great ambassadors – for research to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals – throughout their careers".