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Undergraduate is first author on paper revealing flaws in transparency about animal testing

14 October 2022

Martina Bonassera

Martina Bonassera’s research found significant variation in the reporting of animal welfare practices in laboratory testing

Most undergraduates would be pleased to be named as an author on a scientific research paper - something which is much more common for postgraduate students. This makes Martina Bonassera’s achievement of publishing her first, peer-reviewed paper as first (or lead) author during her BSc in Biochemistry even more impressive.

Martina’s research focused on transparency within scientific writing, specifically within the field of animal testing. Researchers conducting biological research on animals must complete legal documents known as Non-Technical Summaries (NTS), describing both the treatment of the animals involved and the effects of any procedures on them. They must demonstrate how they plan to implement the three Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use) in their experiments.

Martina investigated whether NTS are truly transparent and promote openness for the lay community about the use of animal testing in laboratories, with particular focus on animals used in respiratory research. As respiratory disease is the second largest cause of death globally, lab work in this area is considerable.

Martina found that there is a substantial degree of variation in NTS transparency and developed recommendations for improvement. She hopes the study will raise awareness of the need for transparency in scientific writing, and the impact of the findings will contribute towards the development of more effective treatments for respiratory disease, while maximising animal welfare.

Martina said: “Publishing should not just be a postgraduate aspiration. If you are a BSc student determined to publish, you can do it! Consider research projects which stimulate your curiosity and apply for funded studentships which would be able to support your study.”

Dr Kelly BéruBé, Director of the Lung & Particle Research Group at the School of Biosciences and Martina’s supervisor, added: “While publishing as an undergraduate is less common than for graduate students, it is absolutely possible, and I would encourage students to follow in Martina’s footsteps. The experience of conducting independent research and publishing one’s findings is inspirational and, of course, will assist students seeking post-graduate education”.

The study, ‘Transparency in Non-Technical Project Summaries to Promote the Three Rs in Respiratory Disease Research’, was financially sponsored by the FRAME Summer Studentship Award, won by Martina in 2020, and is published in the journal ATLA (Alternatives to Laboratory Animals).

Amy Beale, Head of Policy & Programmes at FRAME, an independent charity which seeks to replace animal use for medical experiments through researching valid, scientific alternatives, said: "We are delighted to have been able to support Martina’s project with one of our Summer Studentship awards.

"Transparency in research is so important, it aids scientific progress and enables scrutinisation to ensure research is robust and reproducible. There is an ethical and legal responsibility to ensure that animal research projects are relevant and scientifically necessary; in other words if the research question can be investigated in other ways, the animal research project should not be licensed.

"This is a complex point to prove either way, and the NTS is an important step in sharing this justification publicly. Martina worked hard on getting her project to this stage and it is a real achievement to have her first publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal so early in her research career."

Martina graduated in July 2022 and is now undertaking a PhD project at the Institute of Biochemistry of ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

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