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In these uncertain times, the minds of brilliant women are needed now more than ever

Published on March 8, 2022


Carla Owen & Herbie

#Breakthebias – International Women’s Day

By Carla Owen, Animal Free Research UK CEO

Though it might be hard right now to imagine a world shaped by compassion and equality, it’s vital we never lose sight of the enduring spirit of humanity that exists amid the foreboding headlines of heartlessness and division.

So let’s remember today, on International Women’s Day, the many extraordinary women helping to make the world a better place.

One such woman is Dr Asme Boussahel of the University of Bristol. She is creating a revolutionary new tool to replace animal testing for assessing how drugs are absorbed through the skin. The research by this remarkable scientist has the potential to save countless animals who are currently used in tests including dogs, monkeys, minipigs, mice and rats.

As Asme explains: “Animal testing is used extensively in the drug development process. I am working towards changing that by developing a tool to test how drugs that are injected into the subcutaneous skin move within the human body.”

Dr Asme Boussahel

Some drugs like insulin are best delivered to the body by injection into the subcutaneous tissue, which is the layer of fat that sits below the top skin layers. Patients can self-administer subcutaneous injections, reducing discomfort and cost. Drugs injected subcutaneously are absorbed into the bloodstream, so determining the amount and rate they are absorbed in humans is important because it enables researchers to calculate safe and effective doses.

Currently, several species of animals are tested prior to submitting a new drug to regulators for approval. As well as the ethical issues, animals are not good predictors of human bioavailability from the subcutaneous tissue, says Asme.

She adds: “Because of the anatomical and physiological differences, it is very hard to predict human responses from animal data, making animal tests ineffective and very costly. My project aims to develop a solution for this significant gap, replacing animal testing to make the drug development process more effective and less costly.”

What makes Asme’s life-saving research even more remarkable is that her talent might have gone to waste because like many women, she has family commitments which threatened to end her career.

But thanks to Animal Free Research UK, Asme has been helped by the Daphne Jackson Fellowship, a scheme which helps people return to a research career after a break for a family, health or caring reason.

“The funding from Animal Free Research UK is a lifeline that has enabled me to jump back into academia after a break due to family caring responsibilities,” says Asme.

She adds: “It is very difficult for women to have a successful career in research – and it’s even harder for women with caring responsibilities.

“Many of my close friends are excellent scientists but had to leave research because of their need for more stable jobs with better progression for women. Animal Free Research UK and the Daphne Jackson Trust are breaking that trend by funding women to go back and do excellent science after a career break, providing them with support and giving them the flexibility to do their research as well as support their family. I have found this extremely motivating and inspiring.”

Developing effective treatments faster and without animals is urgent as well as complex. It’s not a problem we can solve overnight however desperately we might want to.  Instead, it’s going to take collective will, the brightest minds and diversity of thought.

And many of these brilliant minds are possessed by women who too often have to make an agonising choice between a successful career or caring for loved ones.

As Asme points out: “I think there is an amazing scientific workforce out there made up of women and carers who are unable to benefit the world because a scientific career and raising a family do not go easily together. We need to provide more support and flexibility like the Daphne Jackson Fellowship for these women to be able to do both.”

The unfair bias against women is well documented. Breaking it is not so easy – but for the good of people and animals, break it we must. Because the world needs the brilliant minds of women now more than ever.

#InternationalWomensDay #KinderScience #NeverGiveUp



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