Spotlight on Lynne Sneddon

18 March 2016 - By: Caroline Wood

Spotlight on Lynne Sneddon

Lynne Sneddon

By Caroline Wood

When it comes to animal-based research, the '3Rs' aren't reading, writing, and arithmetic but refinement, replacement and reduction.

As part of the SEB’s commitment to promoting best ethical practices, animal welfare will be the entire focus of its Symposium meeting “Improving experimental approaches in animal biology: Implementing the 3Rs” (29th June- 1st July 2016, Central London). According to meeting co-chair Lynne Sneddon (University of Liverpool, UK), the meeting promises a stimulating line-up with something for every animal researcher. 

Virtual reality

“This meeting will showcase the state of the art in the '3Rs' and give the opportunity to engage with a broad range of scientists”, says Lynne. Besides having a wide appeal to all animal interest groups, the meeting will also be relevant to cell researchers that use tissue cultures instead of whole animals. “Anyone can see the utility of using cell preparations instead of whole animals”, says Lynne. “For example, Nic Bury will discuss using in vitro fish gill preparations to sample contaminants in the field”. Other featured methods for reduction will include using video-generated fish to replace the number of adults used in experiments, and improving statistical approaches to determine the minimum sample sizes that can be used without compromising results. 

Public perception of science is an important facet of animal ethics, and the symposium will also include sessions on education and transparency, with input from major funding bodies and ethical organisations (including the RSPCA and Understanding Animal Research, UAR). “We have to justify the methods we use given that most of the science we do is funded via public money”, says Lynne. She also highlights how the event provides a unique networking opportunity and the chance for scientists working on a wide variety of species to exchange good practices. 

A painful discovery

Lynne’s own interest stems from her research on pain perception and dominance relationships in fish. After her degree in marine biology at the University of Liverpool, Lynne completed a PhD on crustacean aggression, supervised by Alan Taylor at the University of Glasgow.  From there, she moved on to using fish as models of behaviour, with postdocs at the University of Manchester and the Roslin Institute, a five year NERC fellowship at Liverpool, where she is now Director of Bioveterinary Science. Lynne soon found herself drawn to the ‘contentious issue’ of whether fish and other aquatic species truly experience pain. In 2002, she was the first to discover nociceptors in fish: the receptors for potentially painful stimuli which trigger reflex withdrawal responses. However, as she says “pain perception is distinct from nociception, which is a neural process, and includes a component of psychological discomfort”. Since then, Lynne’s work has provided increasing evidence that fish fulfil the full criteria for animal pain, including documenting higher brain activity during painful stimulation and showing that pain-induced changes in physiology and behaviour can be reduced by painkillers.  

On display

Lynne plays an active role in promoting her research;  at the symposium, she will be speaking about an outcome from one of her projects, the Fish Health Monitor. An automated monitoring system that can non-invasively detect unhealthy fish based on their behavioural characteristics, it has already received extensive worldwide media interest (including the BBC and CNN), being applicable to laboratories, aquariums and even pet fish owners. 

In the near future, Lynne hopes to investigate how exactly fish process painful stimuli. Meanwhile, in her downtime, it’s human subjects that become the object of her scrutiny. “I started life drawing in 2002 and find it totally different to my working life”, says Lynne. “It’s really absorbing and such a great way to chill out”. Here, at least, we can assume participants are willing volunteers, not subject to ethical debate!

Category: Animal Biology
Caroline Wood-Profile_opt (1)

Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood was the SEB’s 2014 science communication intern. Since then, Caroline has been a regular contributor the SEB, reporting on events and writing insightful features for our members.
Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Durham University in Cell Biology and is currently a PHD student at Sheffield University studying parasitic Striga weeds that infect food crops. You can read her blog here.