Dr Aline Chary, a research and technology associate at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST), has received the 2023 PETA Science Consortium International e.V. (PSCI) ‘Early career scientist award’. The award, accompanied by a €35,000 monetary donation, comes as a recognition for her work in replacing the use of animal-derived components from cell cultures (the process of growing cells outside of their natural environment, typically within a laboratory setting).
Dr Chary's work focuses on replacing foetal bovine serum (FBS), commonly used in cell cultures, with animal-free alternatives. “In cell culture, a crucial component is the medium used to nourish the cells. Typically, this medium consists of a basal solution supplemented with FBS, derived from the foetal serum of calves,” she explains. “Many researchers engaged in in vitro studies frequently add FBS to their culture media, without being aware that FBS is in fact derived from a living unborn calf. The process of serum collection, performed without anaesthesia, inflicts suffering and thus raises serious ethical concerns.”
Dr Chary is not new to awards. Her work had already won her the Lush Prize as a young researcher in 2018. In fact, the initial boost for her research came from the €10,000 prize money she received. “However, the complexity of the task necessitated additional funding and collaborations,” she adds.
Around 2020, her collaboration began with PETA. Since then, she has been actively involved in the development of animal-free substitutes for FBS and other animal-derived components used in cell culture, such as porcine trypsin, an enzyme derived from pigs, and antibodies sourced from animals like mice, goats, or rabbits.
Incidentally, Dr Chary was also the Principal Investigator for the NAMI InitiaLIST project which focused on designing a custom medium at LIST to grow certain cells, coming away from animal-based components. “We also worked on developing the coculture medium of growing cells together that was initiated during my PhD studies.” This method was called the AliSens model under Invitrolize, a LIST spinoff, which uses Dr Chary’s model to predict the impact of chemicals on human health, without resorting to animal testing.
Talking of her motivation, Dr Chary says, “It was a bit ironic for me that while advocating for the reduction of animal experimentation through in vitro methods during my PhD thesis, we still heavily relied on animal-derived components.” However, this irony also presented an opportunity to be a pioneer in the field of replacing such components with alternatives.
Dr Chary’s research has served as a precursor, sparking interest and opening doors for further exploration in this area. “The publication of our findings led to numerous invitations to present our work at conferences and establish new contacts.”
When asked about how she is thinking of using the prize money this time around, she says, it will go into further funding her research. “With the money, we plan to work on three additional types of lung cell lines, for them to undergo a transition to FBS-free conditions. We want to keep testing and improving our methods until we can establish robust but also animal-free protocols,” she concludes.