Devon Barnes is a PhD Candidate in the Experimental Pharmacology group at the Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University, a partner in the ONTOX project. Devon strongly believes in the ONTOX vision to bring a solution for advancing human risk assessment of chemicals without using animals.
Devon’s primary expertise is related to manufacturing techniques that provide tools to help study disease mechanisms, drug screening and pharmaceutical development. He is fascinated with the expansive scope of the scientific world and admits that one of the greatest challenges for young scientists is to know what direction to choose and be confident in their choices.
Find out more about Devon in this new ONTOX #YoungScientist Series interview.
Devon, you have recently won the ESTIV Best Poster Award for your outstanding presentation of a scientific poster, “Development of an adverse outcome pathway for kidney tubular necrosis”, at the International Congress of Toxicology (ICT) 2022. What was your initial reaction?
I was both happy and honoured to have received the award, as it is always nice to have your work recognised among your peers, especially as this was my first congress. My motivation stems from an inherent desire to put my all into the work I perform. It was great to know that I could effectively communicate the multiple facets of my project that helped bring everything together.
What drove your passion for becoming a scientist in the first place?
My love for science came later than most, and it was not something I became actively interested in until after I had finished school. I once stumbled across a scientific excerpt online that deeply explained something very mundane that I had experienced almost daily. Little did I know that the seemingly brief flash of insight within this article sparked a genuine curiosity about how the world works and that it was one of the first instances where I knew I should pursue a career in the sciences.
You joined Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences after you completed the Master’s degree at Utrecht University in 2020. Why did you decide to obtain your PhD here?
At that time, I was enquiring about working with many employers across academia and industry. A former classmate reached out to me and spoke highly of Prof. Dr Roos Masereeuw, her group leader. She inquired me whether I might be interested in joining Prof. Dr Roos’s Masereeuw research group at the Institute. Then I was informed of the ONTOX project and its goals, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
Can you elaborate on where your motivation to participate in the ONTOX project stems?
I was primarily drawn into the ONTOX project as I have a deep, profound respect for the vision to reduce the use of animals in the pursuit of developing New Approach Methodologies (NAMs). I also feel strongly that we as a community need to strive toward moving away from the exploitation of animals for scientific gain as and where it is feasible to do so. I was happy to sign up for the project once I had heard more about it. Besides this, I also relish the opportunity to network with partners from different backgrounds within the ONTOX consortium. I envision the project will help me attain my personal goals.
“I was primarily drawn into the ONTOX project as I have a deep, profound respect for the vision to reduce the use of animals in the pursuit of developing NAMs. I also feel strongly that we as a community need to strive toward moving away from the exploitation of animals for scientific gain as and where it is feasible to do so.”
You are involved in developing the in vitro kidney model in the ONTOX Work Package 8 (Nephrotoxicity). What are your duties in this group?
I work alongside Dr Manoe Janssen from Utrecht University. I am primarily responsible for developing the in vitro battery we plan to establish during the project and the adverse outcome pathways (AOPs) we will look to publish. I also help the team liaison with the other Work Packages toward some of the cooperative deliverables of the project.
Do you work on other interesting scientific projects that aim to reduce or replace animal testing?
Although it is still in its early stages, I am developing an in vitro model of nephrolithiasis in-house with some of my colleagues here at Utrecht University. This model will also help us build our in vitro battery for one of our case studies. Hopefully, I will have more to discuss soon.
Can you tell us more about your future scientific plans?
I’m honestly still figuring out what I plan to do beyond attaining my PhD, considering the work that still needs to be done to reach the top of that hill. I plan to continue working in academia for now, and I have also begun making plans to join the NVT (Dutch Society of Toxicology) and become a professional toxicologist.
Besides making the world a better place with science, do you have other hobbies?
I am a massive football fan and have been playing and watching since childhood. Now that I have returned to the Netherlands, I have also taken up cycling again.
Who is your biggest inspiration to keep your path?
My mum was, and still is, my main inspiration to keep pursuing my goal of becoming a scientist.