Rober Bachinski is a biologist with an MA in Public Health and Environment (environmental toxicology). He is currently completing his PhD in Biotechnology and was one of 2014's Young Researcher prize winners. Here, he talks about his work and his reasons for winning the prize.
I’ve been vegetarian since 2001, when I was 13 years old. I took this decision when I was completing a professional course on zootechnics concomitantly with the high school. I decided stop eating animals, because I learned a lot about farming techniques on the course. Living in a city inhabited by six thousand people in south Brazil, in a farm-based economy, vegetarianism is not common. I then started studying about animal ethics. Two years later, I decided to become vegan. I started to work on alternatives for education on my undergraduate course, at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, where, on my curriculum, classes using animals were compulsory.
So, I started a process of conscientious objection in the university, culminating in the first student legal recourse of conscientious objection in Brazil. I’d like to point out that the legal process of this is very hard for students, because when you object, you are fighting against the whole system. After that success, many people wrote to me (and still write to me) asking for help to complete the course without the use of animals. There were many times I wanted to quit my studies; thus my family and friends’ support was essential to keep me driven in the process. In this respect, the whole process was not just mine as there was no way I could have graduated alone, without the support of my family and friends. Today I still know many students who quit their studies in Brazil because the universities don’t support them.
Unfortunately, professors still don’t know how to replace the animals in classes, and they keep training students in the same way that they learned. I have talked with many professors and they are interested on new training techniques without animal use – but they have no information about how to do that. In my undergraduate course, just one professor supported me, helping me to research scientific education: Professor Nadia Geisa. She accepted me, while I was in a legal process against the university.
During my undergraduate course, I had the opportunity to travel to Rio de Janeiro and complete two months of practice in the laboratory of Octavio Presgrave, working on alternatives for pyrogenicity test and eye irritation. In that year, I attended the World Congress on Alternatives, where I met a lot of people working on alternatives; it was a new world for me. I met Thales Tréz and his subjects on alternatives for education, InterNICHE and Nick Jukes, on humane education. This time was important to decide to move to Rio and I started studying for my masters in Environmental Toxicology, working on neurotoxicology using cell line for Achetyl-cholinestarese analysis in live cells.
There, I met my current advisors (Prof. Gutemberg Alves and Prof. Mauro Granjeiro) and my PhD Programme (Science and Biotechnology/Fluminense Federal University) who supported a lot researches on alternatives. Brazil is very big and in the last few years alone, alternative groups have started to be organised. But still need more collaborations and national studies. I had the opportunity to work with CAAT for one year, in Professor Thomas Hartung’s group, especially with Dr. Helena Hogberg, training me on 3D cell culture and advising me in my thesis. All my studies were supported by the Brazilian government, including the part spent in the US, supported by Science without Borders and CAPES.
Why were you nominated for the prize?
Because I think finding animal alternatives in education is the most important subject to be worked on in Brazil nowadays. It is the first contact that students have with animal uses and we have to help professors and universities to change these classes, so that more students will be able complete the course with no damage to animals. Thus, more people interested in animal care will conclude graduation and work on alternatives in researches or in professional fields.
Why did you win the prize?
Lush is supporting research on the replacement of animal uses. In this way, the first action still is to replace animal use in classes and training. In Brazil, many students are obligated to use animals or they quit the course because the process in the university is so stressful. So, I understand that I won the prize through collaborating with professors, in supporting alternatives to animal use in training and education in Brazil.
Could you outline how your work overlaps with current governmental policies?
In recent years, Brazilian government started to encourage alternatives in Brazil. In 2008, it created the National Council for Controlling of Animal Experimentation (CONCEA), in 2012, the National Network on Alternative Methods, and in 2013, the Brazilian Committee for Validation of Alternative Methods (BRACVAM). Now, we have several organisations working on alternatives, however we don’t have many people dedicated to exploring alternatives in education. So, this project came to collaborate specially with CONCEA aims, studying and mapping the animal use in Brazil and proposing alternative classes for training and education.
What does winning the prize mean for you?
As I explained in the first question, working on alternatives I’m returning all the support that I received when I had problems in my university. It is not just a scientific interest, but it is a personal involvement – for other students and for animals. And this is an important time for changing science in Brazil. Professors are looking for alternatives and the government is encouraging that. So, winning the prize is a very important support for keeping the work going on the replacement of animal use, and it is more than funding for a project, is recognition of ten years of effort and interest in animal use replacement. It keeps me interested and trusting in a future without damages for animals and students. The prize will help me to establish a social-scientific organisation in Brazil, supporting more students working on alternatives and collaborating with the government and universities for the implementation of alternatives in Brazil.