Inspirational Woman: Dr Julia Baines PhD | Science Policy Manager, PETA

Dr Julia BainesA mum-of-two and PETA science policy manager, Dr Julia Baines is one of the strong, smart, and strategic female animal advocates who make up 74% of PETA’s workforce.

Currently, Dr Baines’ biggest passion is ensuring that no animal suffers for the production of cosmetics, as animal testing of certain ingredients is still permitted in the EU and further afield.

She is an expert in the legal and ethical use of animals and represents PETA Science Consortium International e.V. in the European Parliament and at high-level EU meetings. Her work has saved thousands of animals, preventing pregnant rabbits and rats and their babies from being force-fed cosmetics ingredients. In 2021, she provided crucial evidence to stop two toxic tests on more than 500 rats and fish. Another major challenge Dr Baines confronts in her work is dealing with whistleblower cases, such as this one, in which live rats used in a Scottish laboratory were thrown into a rubbish compressor.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

I’m Julia Baines, science policy manager at the charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). As an academic, my research on animal welfare and behaviour took me inside many laboratories, where I witnessed the dreadful suffering of animals used for experiments. I’m still haunted by what I saw. These horrors led me to work for PETA and dedicate my life to helping animals.

At PETA, I’m focusing on three main goals. First, to work towards ending laboratory experiments on animals, as detailed in PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal. I work with government officials and policy advisors to promote a strategy for freeing up funds for innovative, non-animal methods – such as organs-on-a-chip and complex computer models – ending the use of animals in research areas in which they have been shown to be poor surrogates for humans, and applying a robust system for ensuring the most up-to-date, human-relevant methods are used.

My second goal is to stop EU authorities from requiring that cosmetics ingredients be tested on animals. Yes, that’s still happening, as the European Chemicals Agency demands excessive testing for ingredients, including tests on pregnant rabbits and other animals. You can learn more and help end these abhorrent tests here.

Third, I work to end the cruel forced swim test from being carried out on rats at the University of Bristol. This vile test forces rats to swim in inescapable beakers of water so that experimenters can identify new antidepressants. However, the applicability of an animal’s behaviour to human depression or to the utility of a compound for treating human depression has been substantially refuted. Companies including Pfizer, Bayer, and GlaxoSmithKline have stopped using the test. You can add your support for a ban here.

Depression and other mental-health conditions are some of the most common and debilitating conditions in the world, making it vital that scientific research achieve translatable results that are relevant for human clinical practice. Likewise, rather than forcing animals to ingest or inhale chemicals, it is essential that a more sophisticated approach to toxicity testing be used – one that will provide adequate information for the protection of human health and the environment. To achieve this, I attend a lot of high-level EU meetings with lawyers, toxicologists, and policy specialists, and I’m always inspired to see a lot of chairwomen and female experts.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve always been interested in animals, so studying their welfare and behaviour for my PhD came naturally. But nothing prepared me for what I witnessed in the laboratories, and that’s what put me on the path to where I am today. It was eight years ago, while working as a lecturer in higher education, that I saw the job advert for a science policy advisor at PETA. My experience, knowledge, skills, and deep desire to get animals out of laboratories made the role a perfect fit, so I applied. It’s the best career move I’ve ever made.

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Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Seeing animals suffering in labs was extremely tough, but it did lead to my decision to dedicate my life to helping them. Whistle-blower cases, in which I investigate and document atrocities reported to us, can be very emotionally demanding. For example, in 2019, we were told that Charles River Laboratories near Edinburgh had crushed live rats to death in a rubbish compressor. Some rats were given doses of chemicals so high that one distressed female gnawed off part of her front foot. Following our detailed complaint, the Home Office imposed sanctions on the laboratory, so our hard work was worth it, and we continue to investigate any abuse that we’re made aware of. It’s frustrating to know that animals are still being used in pointless, unnecessary experiments, often out of habit, when our Research Modernisation Deal can help institutions transition to animal-free science and is available to all, free of charge. Ultimately, animal experiments will be replaced, and the sooner, the better, so organisations should act now.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

In 2017, through the PETA International Science Consortium Ltd, we helped cancel a testing requirement demanding that BASF Personal Care and Nutrition force-feed high concentrations of a cosmetics ingredient to pregnant rats or rabbits. I spoke in support of the animals at the appeal hearing, arguing that the European Chemicals Agency’s request for the test was neither ethical nor robust. Last year, we also stopped unnecessary experiments on more than 500 animals, which would have involved force-feeding a chemical used in washing and cleaning products to rats for 28 days before dissecting them and pumping it into the water of tanks containing fish embryos as they grew and developed. The fight against other cosmetics experiments continues, and anyone wanting to ensure they buy cruelty-free products should check the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies database, which lists companies that do not test on animals for any reason.

What keeps you awake at night right now?

The “Frankenscience” currently going on in the US, in which a pig heart has been transplanted into a human. Animals are not warehouses of spare parts for humans to raid, and changing US law to presume consent for human organ donation (as is the case in the UK) would make many more organs available. Using other animals’ organs is not only ethically wrong but also a huge waste of resources that could be better used to advance animal-free, human-relevant research.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

My education and skills have given me a good foundation, but ultimately, the one thing that keeps me working late at night or over the weekends is my passion for the cause. I fully believe in the values of PETA and standing up for animals who are not able to protect themselves.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Apply your skills to developing and using non-animal methods! Look for training opportunities with scientists who are proficient in the use of in vitro and in silico methods, attend conferences and workshops that focus on innovative technology without the use of animals, and apply for funding opportunities in these fields.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Check out the PETA Science Consortium International website – the Consortium and its members offer travel awards to researchers seeking to contribute to the development and use of animal-free test methods, organise webinars focused on the use of non-animal methods to meet regulatory requirements, and produce factsheets on such methods.

Dr Samantha Saunders featured

Inspirational Woman: Dr Samantha Saunders | Research Associate, PETA

 Dr Samantha SaundersDr Samantha Saunders is a research associate with PETA.

She is a veterinary surgeon and has a doctorate in coronavirology.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I work as a research associate with PETA’s science team. Each year in UK laboratories, around 3.5 million animals are drugged, infected, mutilated, or abused in other ways in the name of science. All my training and experience to date – first as a veterinarian, then as a scientist in a coronavirus research laboratory – has shown me that tests on animal not only are cruel but also impede scientific progress. My job involves working with government officials, companies, and scientists to communicate the weaknesses of tests on animals and promote modern, robust non-animal approaches to replace them. PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal is our plan for ushering in a new era of science without animals.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I never planned my career, but I always knew I wanted to help animals. After volunteering in an animal shelter as a teenager, I decided to go to veterinary school to learn how to heal animals and keep them healthy. During veterinary school, I did a research project in a laboratory that opened my eyes to the possibility of helping many more animals by bringing about scientific breakthroughs, such as new treatments for diseases. This led me to my doctoral research, which involved studying a coronavirus that infects cats to help develop better vaccines and treatments against that virus. Even though my research used cells rather than live animals, I worked alongside people who experimented on mice and rats, and I became disturbed by the futility of their efforts. They were not only harming and killing these sensitive animals but also failing to generate any useful information. This led me to my current role, in which I help prevent more animals from being used in pointless experiments.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

I have been an ethical vegan for many years now, and some aspects of veterinary school were very challenging from an ethical point of view – for example, working in an abattoir and on animal farms. It was difficult to witness animals undergoing surgery without pain relief, being killed in full sight of their companions, and being confined to cages too small to allow them to turn around – all routine practices on UK farms. Sometimes, knowing that I could do more good as a qualified veterinarian was the only thing that kept me going.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

My PhD involved using molecular biology techniques to study a feline coronavirus. Some time after I had graduated and started working at PETA, the pandemic emerged, and I was called upon to go back to the coronavirus laboratory where I’d done my doctoral research to develop testing methods for the virus that causes COVID-19. I felt very proud to be able to use my skills to help tackle such a real and urgent problem.

Since joining PETA, one of the projects I’ve been most excited about being involved in is our work to end cosmetics tests on animals in the EU. Although tests on animals for cosmetics ingredients have been banned in the EU under the Cosmetics Regulation since 2013, such tests are still being done under the pretext of chemical safety testing. We’re working hard to stop this practice, because we recognise that the life of an animal is worth more than a tube of toothpaste or sunscreen.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve always let what I’m interested in and passionate about dictate what I do. This hasn’t led me on the most straightforward career path, but I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot from every step of it.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Find that sweet spot where what you’re passionate about and what you’re good at meet, and do whatever you can to make that your job. For me, that’s using my science expertise and communication skills to promote approaches to research and testing that benefit society and keep animals out of laboratories.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

As the famous phrase goes, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” Women have historically been seriously underrepresented in STEM fields, and that is still reflected in the lack of women in senior management positions in some organisations. This was very much the case in veterinary practice and academia, in which most of the junior positions were filled by women and most of the senior positions by men. I am very grateful I now work in an organisation that was founded by a pioneering woman and is led by an amazing group of kick-ass women – there’s no shortage of inspirational role models at PETA!

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Universities need to equip women with the skills necessary to thrive in STEM fields. For life sciences students, that means comprehensive training in animal-free approaches to research and testing. As in vitro (cell-based) and in silico (computer-based) methods are growing massively in popularity, this is the only way to future-proof students’ skills.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

For scientists interested in working in the exciting, rapidly expanding fields of in vitro and in silico research and testing, the PETA Science Consortium International e.V. website contains a wealth of information. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre offers a summer school for students and early-career scientists eager to learn about non-animal approaches in science. And, of course, you can’t miss the European Congress on Alternatives to Animal Testing – the most exciting animal-free science event on the calendar!

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