Dr Aimee Murray (Research Fellow – University of Exeter Medical School) won the SETAC UK competition for a funded opportunity to attend the OECD meeting in Paris in October 2018 and she's written a blog about her experience. SETAC UK received a large number of applications to attend this meeting and thanks to all those Early Career Researchers who applied and supported our initiative - we look forward to offering other opportunities like this in the future.
Aimee's Blog ...
In October 2018, I successful won a competitive application process to attend the OECD’s Validation Management Group for Ecotoxicity (VMG-Eco) organised by the Department for Environment, Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Defra) and funded by Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) UK.
The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) does what it says on the tin. It brings together its 36 member countries to collaborate towards solutions for common problems, for the benefit of society and the environment. A key area within their Environment Directorate is ‘Chemical safety and biosafety’, which is responsible for the development and approval of test guidelines. These internationally ratified and adopted documents are used by regulators, academia and industry for performing environmental and human health risk assessment of chemicals.
I’m an independent, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Industrial Innovation Fellow, based at the University of Exeter (Cornwall campus). I’m in the process of developing a novel assay which could be used to determine concentrations of antibiotics which select for antimicrobial resistance, which I hope might one day become an OECD approved test guideline. So you can see why this opportunity was particularly appealing.
I was prepped and mentored for the event by Dr Christopher Green, the National Co-ordinator for Test Guidelines from Defra. Mainly this involved familiarising myself with the documents for the packed agenda, which spanned all stages of test guideline development, validation and approval. We formed the UK delegation at the meeting alongside Dr Ioanna Katsiadaki from CEFAS, an endocrine disruption and fish expert.
The day before the meeting, I began my tedious travel from the deepest, darkest corners of west Cornwall. I arrived in central Paris some 8 hours later, just in time for a cheeky snap with the Eiffel Tower before meeting up for dinner.
The OECD, I have learned from other academics, is considered a somewhat impenetrable fortress. The security pass, body scan and bag scan required for entry did not do much to dispel this myth, but certainly made for a more interesting morning than my usual trek to the lab. The headquarters, the Châteaux de la Muette, is an juxtaposition of modern, subterreanan offices and meeting spaces; while the Châteaux itself is an elegant and beautiful building that easily speaks of the strong economic growth during ‘Les Années Folles’ (the ‘crazy years’, a.k.a. the ‘Roaring’ or ‘Golden Age’ twenties). Unusually (but luckily for me), the meeting was held in the latter, so I can claim the ‘full’ experience.
Professor Peter Matthiesen of the UK and Professor Taisen Iguchi of Japan co-chaired the meeting. Completely new test guidelines in the first stages of data collection were introduced, and support garnered for submission of Standard Protocol Submission Forms (the first step in test guideline development). Progress reports on international validation studies of new test methods were presented. Revisions of old test guidelines were discussed. My personal favourite was the transgenic Japanese medaka, where the kidneys fluoresce in the presence of endocrine active chemicals capable of interfering with the androgen receptor. Witnessing the translation of cutting edge science into real-world applications was a real privilege.
It was very valuable for me, given my current research, to learn the procedure for developing a test guideline. The more subtle aspects, such as the importance of strong relationships with the other member countries; the very rigorous, technical detail against which guidelines would be assessed; and an impression of the common sticking points will be very useful when developing my own assay. That, and patience. It’s no mean feat to have a test developed and validated - but then finally approved by all 36 member countries. On a more personal note, I also learnt that Côtes du Rhône in Paris is much nicer than Côtes du Rhône in England, and that selfie sticks can be quite ostentatious and therefore incompatible with the delicate English sensibility of, at least this, lone traveller.
My thanks go to SETAC UK and Defra for this unique professional development opportunity, and also especially to Chris and Ioanna for guiding me through the experience.