Case study: An extraordinary legacy – Dr Mary Dawson

Dr Mary Dawson was a long-term member and supporter of UFAW, as well as a scientist.  Based at the University of Strathclyde, Mary was to become one of the leading exponents of using tissue culture methods for replacing animals in research as well as a recognised expert on laboratory animal welfare. During her career, she lectured extensively, including presenting a paper at a UFAW symposium in 1971 entitled The rational use of tissue cultures for drug testing, and was the author of numerous papers and books. 

In 1974 at the University of Strathclyde, she began her UFAW-supported research into the use of tissue-culture methods to replace animal experiments.  The project was completed in 1980 and aimed to find non-animal alternatives for the testing of new drugs against possible carcinogenic and cardiotoxic side effects. 

When she died in 1995, Mary left not only a body of work for a new generation of scientists to continue and develop, but she also left a generous bequest to UFAW which has ultimately made a real and lasting difference to the lives of many animals, as well as encouraging the next generation of animal welfare scientists to take up the baton.

Mary’s legacy enabled UFAW to launch a new award scheme as part of its efforts to encourage high calibre science likely to lead to substantial advances in animal welfare.  Called the Animal Welfare Research Training Scholarships the aim was to enable promising graduates to undertake three-year research programmes leading to doctoral degrees.  The first scholarship was awarded in 1998 to Ms Emma Harding at the University of Bristol for her project Novel methods for assessing mental states and animal welfare.  Current RTS scholar Elena Armstrong, is investigating the lifetime welfare of chickens by testing whether changes in the birds’ brains reflect their levels of stress.

Mary’s gift also enabled a Mary Dawson award to be given in 1997 to Dr Nolan, a student at Glasgow University, to develop new technologies to investigate mechanisms of hypersensitivity to pain.  Inflammation of sensitive tissue can cause hypersensitivity to stimuli, so that animals feel pain during normal activities such as walking or foraging.  Dr Nolan’s project aimed to identify appropriate analgesic pain-relief drugs or other methods of pain control.