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Studying complex skin diseases without laboratory animals

Scientific research need not always make use of laboratory animals. Sue Gibbs, professor of Skin Regeneration, uses an alternative approach involving a ‘skin-on-chip’ model.

Cell biologist Sue Gibbs develops skin models that have the same properties and composition as real skin. She uses these skin-on-chip models to study complex skin diseases and to test the effect of medicines. 

The models involve a representation of a human system, complete with immune cells, lymphs and blood vessels. Gibbs expects that other models will be developed too (lymph nodes, mucous membranes, liver), so that yet more studies can take place without the need for laboratory animals. In the future, it should be possible for a model to contain multiple organs in order to simulate the interaction between those organs.

Gibbs has made a conscious choice to focus on animal-free research and inspires other researchers to do the same. Such a choice has a strong ethical component, but that’s not all: results from animal experiments cannot always be translated directly to humans. Gibbs focuses on skin and mouth conditions.

As part of the national Transition Programme for Innovation without the use of animals (TPI), a study on burn wounds using laboratory animals has been successfully converted into an animal-free study.

On 11 November 2020, Gibbs won the Lush Prize Training Award of £50,000 for the TPI Helpathon, which trains researchers in the use of animal-free research methods.

The Lush Prize is a partnership between Lush Cosmetics and the Ethical Consumer Association. It is awarded annually in different categories.

See also