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Step-change in immune cell survival rates benefits viral infection research

Copyright: NIAID on Flickr by CC 2.0

Advances enabling chicken immune cells to be cultured in the laboratory are reducing the need to study birds in viral infection research, an innovation which saw researcher Dr Andrew Broadbent shortlisted in BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year Awards 2019.

Data breakout

2019 Innovator of the Year Awards in which Dr Andrew Broadbent was a finalist
2 Viruses studied so far using the cultured cells

Until recently, chicken immune cells would die within hours of being outside the birds. However, advances by researchers at The Pirbright Institute, strategically funded by BBSRC, mean B cells, a type of infection-fighting white blood cell, can now be kept alive for up to a week.

This step-change means scientists can study the cells rather than chickens, reducing the number of birds used in infection research. The advancement exemplifies BBSRC’s commitment to integrate the 3Rs principles (replacement, refinement and reduction) in its funded animal research.

The cells have been used to study two viruses so far. Wider applications include investigating viral interactions with other birds, growing stocks of viruses, and testing vaccines. The cells could be provided to laboratories without animal facilities and could reduce vaccine development costs.

Key impacts

  • Immune cells can be used instead of chickens to study viruses and infection, reducing the number of birds used in research
  • Vaccine development costs could be reduced by using the cells to screen new vaccines
  • Cultured cells could be provided to laboratories without animal facilities to enable them to carry out infection research.

Header image copyright: NIAID on Flickr by CC 2.0