Driving change: women in non-animal research
Martina Benedetti is a PhD student working in the pioneering laboratory for alternative methods in Argentina.
- Can you tell us more about yourself and your journey as a PhD student?
Our primary mission in the research group is to pioneer the introduction of validated methodologies, a significant first for Argentina. This initiative aims to provide non-animal testing services to the local industry. Beyond that, our focus extends to the development of new methodologies and the refinement of strategies, all geared towards gradually replacing the reliance on animal testing that regulatory bodies still mandate. Of course, being part of a pioneering laboratory in my country has been challenging but also very rewarding. Overall, I think my journey is led by a strong desire to contribute to the advancement of humane and effective scientific practices in Argentina. So far, it has been a very fulfilling experience!
- What are the main goals of your research?
My research focuses on modelling the eye using in vitro techniques to assess the reversibility of potential damage when the eye is exposed to a toxic substance.
More into detail, my project consists of designing a model to help replace animal use on ocular toxicity testing implementing stem cells as well as 3D culture. We are studying the cornea architecture and function in vitro to test different chemicals and evaluate the damage they produce on the organ and its potential damage reversibility. This is important because the available alternative methods do not allow documenting the reversibility of the damage, let alone the time necessary for such reversibility to occur, as required by the UN GHS classifications.
- Last year, you won the travel grant offered by Eurogroup for Animals and the RSPCA to attend the JRC Summer School. What are the main things you learned from this event?
As a participant in the JRC Summer School, I gained valuable insights into in vitro methods and computational modelling that were new to me. The program allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of innovative techniques through expert presentations, which was very valuable for me as there are no scientific activities in Argentina that deal with these topics. The debate sessions were also very interesting for me, as we focused on real issues that are being discussed today by the experts in the field (In our case, we had to argue that setting an annual cap on the number of animals used for research is the best way to reduce the use of animals in science).
I should also mention that the visit to the EURL-ECVAM laboratories was great! It provided a practical dimension that allowed me to experience first-hand the application of the methods available. I am particularly grateful that the summer school also provided me with an excellent platform for exploring career paths and building a professional network, which enhanced my overall understanding and connections in the field.
- What inspires you to use your scientific expertise to advance non-animal science?
My inspiration stems from a commitment to ethical research practices and a desire to contribute to more sustainable and humane scientific advances. Ethically, I am motivated to contribute to research practices that meet modern standards of compassion and responsibility. Scientifically, I am driven by the prospect of developing and implementing methods that not only eliminate the need for animal testing, but also provide more accurate and relevant results for humans. In addition, I think it is particularly motivating to make progress in this area in Argentina, as in my country we are taking the first steps towards researching non-animal methods, which of course motivates my work even more.
- On International Day of Women and Girls in Science, what message would you like to send to women who, like you, want to accelerate the transition to human-based, non-animal science?
I want to encourage and empower my fellow women. Let your passion for innovation guide you and bring your unique perspectives to the field. Seize the opportunities to collaborate, learn and lead, because our collective efforts can make a meaningful difference. I think we can all agree that advances in research should go hand in hand with compassion for all living beings. So, let's strive together for ethical and sustainable scientific practices. Your commitment can make a significant contribution towards a more humane and effective scientific landscape. Happy International Day of Women and Girls in Science!