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Sioux Falls Researcher Wins Area’s First Lush Prize

Jan 03, 2019 10:00AM ● By MED Magazine

Like most researchers, Pilar de la Puente recognizes the value of animal research. But it’s the fact that her lab has found an even more effective way to test breast cancer treatments that attracted the attention of the Lush Prize, an organization that promotes animal-free testing.

De la Puente is using patient-derived 3D cell culture models rather than animal tissue to better understand the biology of drug resistance as well as a the structure and function of the tumor microenvironment.

“Not all breast cancers are identical. We try to treat all patients equally. That is a mistake. We want to develop a treatment for that specific patient,” de la Puente told MED. “The idea is that because we are recreating that specific tumor, we can test hundreds of therapies and hundreds of combinations and say what one will work for that patient, at that moment, with those specific genetics.”

Thirty-three-year-old De la Puente, who is from Spain, started at Sanford in Sioux Falls in June. She was familiar with the UK-based Lush company but was thrilled and surprised to be nominated for one of this year’s 13 Young Researcher prizes. De la Puente is one of only four US researchers to win and the first one ever from Sanford, the Dakotas, or Spain.

“In the end, when I won, I thought this is something incredible,” says de la Puente. “This is the first one from Spain so my country is making a super big deal about it. There is news all over the radio and everything.”

The Lush Young Researcher Prize carries a £10,000 reward, which de la Puente will use to take her research on patient-derived cellular matrices to the next level.

“We will start with a retrospective study to confirm that the predictions we are making based on the tumor models we create are accurate,” says de la Puente. “Hopefully, within a couple of years, we will be able to start telling clinicians what to give the patient.”

The annual Lush prize is the largest in the non-animal testing sector, and it is the only award to focus solely on the complete replacement of animal tests. De la Puente says she hopes her win will inspire others in our region to consider applying for international awards. “This could open the doors for people to do some new kinds of research,” she says.