People 11 February 2019
You may know Katie Cleary from the first season of America's Next Top Model or from popular dramas like How to Get Away with Murder, but her successful career extends far beyond entertainment. As the founder of Peace 4 Animals, Cleary channels her abundant compassion for wildlife into a welfare organization that amplifies the issues of all animals (tigers being her favorite). These important issues are touched upon further in the news platform she launched called World Animal News and in her two documentaries, one of which is still in production. Below, Cleary discusses her lifelong connection with animals and her devotion towards them that has inspired her to set out on a philanthropic journey.
- What inspired you to found Peace 4 Animals? How did the process of getting it off the ground go?
I was inspired to create Peace 4 Animals when I was young because of my passion to protect endangered species. I wanted to be a veterinarian but knew that I wouldn't be able to see the animals in pain and perform surgery, so I thought another way I could make a big impact would be to start my own organization. I was going back and forth with names, and was thinking of including something with the word wildlife in the title, but that would exclude other species, so I decided to go with something that would speak for all animals. That's when I came up with Peace 4 Animals. The logo came to mind right away. I knew I wanted a peace sign with a tiger because tigers are my favorite species, and sadly one of the most endangered big cats on the planet. I had someone create the logo and began the process of filing my 501c3 status, and so my foundation began.
- Where does your passion for helping animals stem from?
From the time I was a child, my connection with animals was so strong, and I knew I wanted to be involved in helping them for the rest of my life. It wasn't until 2012 that that calling became a reality…when it was time to start my foundation and cultivate partnerships around the world with like-minded organizations and individuals who share the same passion to help save animals.
- What makes World Animal News a unique and important platform for its readers? When did you notice there was a lack of coverage on other platforms?
It was around the same time that I founded Peace 4 Animals when I knew that there was a void in the news for animal and environmental topics. One morning I woke up and had an epiphany about developing an animal news network, this was how World Animal News (WAN) started. It began as a filmed podcast and turned into a popular new site with help from a team of dedicated writers and animal lovers who help me bring our readers the latest breaking news in animal welfare from around the world every day.
- Could you tell me a little bit about your in-production film, “We Are One"? When should we expect to see it premiere?
“We Are One" is my second documentary, and the first film that I am directing. I'm really excited. It's such a unique project, and I get to travel and interview leaders in animal welfare around the world who are dedicating their lives to protecting animals. We are highlighting many issues that the public is not aware of and that need to be brought to light. The topics in the film include: factory farming, undercover investigations, anti-poaching, the ivory and rhino horn trade, palm oil/saving orangutans and animal welfare legislation. Hoping to premiere beginning of 2020.
- Have you faced any challenges as a woman in the film industry? If so, how did you overcome them?
I have faced many challenges, as a young woman who began as a model and actress and now who is producing and directing. You feel like you must constantly prove that you're just as worthy of creating important films that can make an impact in this world for the greater good. I had to persevere and overcome fears and obstacles, people saying that it's too hard or difficult, and people who tried to discourage me. I know that this is what I'm here for and what I'm meant to do. I just have to keep focused full-steam ahead and not let anything throw me off my path, so I can be a voice for the animals.
- What advice would you give to other women hoping to found their own organizations? Likewise, who has been a role model to you in the world of animal advocacy?
I would say that if you have a passion and mission in this life, that you should do everything in your power to make that dream a reality. Never give up despite what anyone tells you. This is all a test and those who stay focused and driven on something for the greater good will always succeed.
My role model growing up was Jane Goodall because of her ambition, strength and determination to make her dream of working with chimpanzees in the wild a reality, as well as becoming a global voice for animals. We need more women like her to be able to bring to light what is needed, not only to save the rest of the species that we share this planet with, but to protect our earth before it's too late.
- What has been the most gratifying moment of pursuing your mission to protect animals thus far?
The most gratifying moment is rescuing an animal, and when they look at you and know that you have saved their life!
- What is your biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals? What goals do you hope to achieve over the next few years?
My biggest dream for Peace 4 Animals is to continue growing my organization to help save millions of animals every year and be one of the largest animal welfare organization worldwide. I would also like to build the Peace 4 Animals Rescue & Rehab for Endangered Species in Africa, as well as have World Animal News become a show on a major news network like BBC so that we can mainstream animal welfare on a global scale.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."