Eckington School, Derbyshire, 1992 – 1999
2006 – Present, University of Nottingham, PhD: The Use of Primates in Biomedical Science. 2000 – 2004, University of Sheffield, MbiolSci Zoology
University of Sheffield, Dorothy Perkins, the RSPCA and several vets.
Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME)
Favourite thing to do in my job: My favourite thing about science is finding out new things that help me to understand how and why something happens or behaves in the way that it does. It is exciting to take that new information and present it in interesting ways that help me and others to find alternative ways of doing scientific experiments without needing to use animals.
I’m a zoologist who works for a scientific charity finding practical and valid alternatives to the use of animals in biomedical science, while I study part time for a PhD.
It is now almost six years ago that I started working at FRAME, fresh out of university with a Masters Degree in zoology and a long term interest in animal welfare. I didn’t want to be a traditional researcher, hidden in a university laboratory, but I did still want to be a scientist. My passion for caring for and understanding animals, in particular primates (monkeys and apes), goes back to my childhood. My work at FRAME allows me to feed that passion, be a scientist and make a practical difference to laboratory animals’ lives.
I find out how scientific experiments can be done in the most humane and effective way. To do this I use a set of criteria that were developed over 50 years ago but have only recently been widely accepted. These criteria are called the Three Rs, which are:
Reduction – Minimising the number of animals used in each experiment
Refinement – Using methods in experiments on animals that ensure that the welfare of the animal is maximized and any pain or distress it might suffer is minimised
Replacement – Changing from experiments and studies on animals to experiments using alternative methods without animals.
The majority of my work involves researching and promoting two of these, Reduction and Replacement.
Reducing Animal Experiments
I am the chair of a Reduction Committee that involves people from universities, businesses and the Home Office (the government department responsible for controlling animal experiments). The Committee develops and carries out projects to reduce the number of animals used in research, education and testing without compromising the quality of research or hindering scientific progress.
The main project that I have been involved in recently is organising Training Schools to teach scientists what they need to consider when designing an experiment. This includes them learning the basic skills they need to plan and analyse their work so that they minimise the number of animals needed and maximise the quality and relevance of the scientific results. This is because the best way to reduce the use of animals in experiments is to make sure the experiments are designed properly and the right mathematical test is done on the results to show that they are valid. At the moment there is a general lack of knowledge about these issues.
Replacing Primate Experiments
The other main thing that I am working on at the moment is my PhD looking at whether it is possible to replace primates in research to find treatments and cures for schistosomiasis (a parasitic disease) and Parkinson’s disease (a brain disorder). This involves doing a lot of reading of scientific papers and news reports and interviewing the scientists that conduct the research. I will then have to write up all my findings and defend them in a viva, which is an exam where you discuss your report with other scientists and they decide if what you have found is right and valid.
Presenting and Lecturing
One of the things that I really like about my job is that a few times a year I go to conferences to present the work that I do. This can involve giving a speech or designing and showing a poster. I have been to lots of places in the UK and around the world including Japan, Italy, Germany and France.
As well as presenting my own specific work, I also give lectures to university students about alternatives research and the Three Rs.
Influencing Laws and Guidelines
I use the knowledge that I have gained doing my job to provide evidence to the government and other scientific agencies about how to make sure that the Three Rs are included in any laws or guidelines that are used to control the use of animals in scientific experiments.
A small part of my job also involves answering question from the general public and scientists about animal experiments, such as what tests are done and how many are done. This also involves providing easy to understand information about what alternatives to animal tests there are and how we can find more.
My Typical Day
Online research, reading journals, writing and talking to my colleagues about what I have found out.
My day depends on which project I am working on and whether I get any requests for information from journalists, scientists or the public. If that happens then I have to drop everything and work on an answer. But generally I start the day by checking my emails. Then I check online news and journal sites for any stories related to animal experiments or the research that I am doing.
At the moment most of my days are spent working on my PhD project. So I read scientific papers to find out information on what kinds of research is being done to find treatments for Parkinson’s disease and what the results have been. I then keep written notes of the most interesting or important things so that I can use them when I write up my final report. I am also looking up scientists that do this research so that I can contact them in the next few months to see if they will talk to me about their work. I will have to use the notes that I am making to design a set of questions to ask the scientists that agree to be interviewed.
I have already spoken to some scientists about their research on schistosomiasis (a parasitic disease) and recorded what they said. So recently I have had to spend time typing out what said in those interviews so that I can use some of the things that the scientists talked to me about as part of my report.
On other days I might be busy organising training events or meetings. If I am going to be attending a conference I will spend time designing PowerPoint presentations or posters and deciding what part of my research I will talk about.
Once a week I usually attend seminars, which are presentations by other scientists, to hear about their new research and whether it is related to what I do. I find it very important to spend a little bit of most days talking to my colleagues about our work. That is how we decide what is important or interesting, what we might do next and how we can pass on the information to the public and other scientists.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would like to set up an interactive website that provides useful and interesting information to help all kinds of people to understand why the search for non-animal scientific methods is important and how it can be done.
There are very few (if any) sources of easy to understand information specifically about the Three Rs (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement) and alternatives to animal experiments available. The majority of the information currently available is aimed at helping scientists to include the Three Rs in their animal experiments and can be very technical and difficult to understand.
Therefore, I think that is important to develop a website that makes understanding the need for alternatives to animal experiments easier and fun for everyone.
It is very difficult to get grants or research funding to develop this kind of resource so the money from I’m a Scientist get me Out of Here might be the only way that I can get this project underway.
I would like the website to have information on:
Each of the Three Rs
Different types of animal experiments and updates on any new methods that might replace them
Non-animal methods that are already being used and what they have found
Why certain experiments are done for specific reasons e.g. to comply with a regulation or to improve knowledge about a disease or how the body works
The laws that control animal experiments
Animal experimentation around the world and how it might be different.
The arguments for and against animal experiments
This information will be presented in a variety of ways including interactive games and quizzes, downloadable information leaflets and posters, and videos and presentation slides, with definitions and glossaries to explain technical jargon.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, Caring, Fun
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Presenting my work at a conference in Tokyo, Japan because many of the scientists in that part of the world are only just starting to think about alternatives to animal experiments and I felt like I was really making a difference to how they viewed their work.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No not really, I was a bit of a goody two shoes!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I like lots of different kinds of music from the Killers, through Take That to the classics like Queen.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Recently it was cooling off on a water slide at a friends BBQ but feeding a baby elephant last year was very special too.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1: I wish that I could travel all around the world photographing wildlife and visiting all the sites of ancient civilisations. 2: I wish that I could witness the day when animals are no longer used in experiments. 3. I wish for all my family and friends to be healthy and happy.
Tell us a joke.
Why did the banana go to the doctors? Because he wasn’t peeling very well!