Celebrating Women in Science

Celebrating Women in Science

To celebrate the 2020 International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we wanted to honor the contributions of women in science by highlighting a few inspirational women who made groundbreaking discoveries in neuroscience, oncology, immunology, and stem cell research.
One of the pioneers in understanding brain development, Carla Shatz, studies interactions between neurons and was the first to uncover how spontaneous firing of neurons aids in formation of neural connections. She has also identified unique functions for proteins like Class I MHC molecules in neuronal plasticity. Her work helps us understand brain biology and has far-reaching impact in our knowledge of developmental disorders, potential ways to reverse brain damage, and uncovering ways in which the immune system and nervous system interact. Dr. Shatz was the first woman chair of the Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the Director of Stanford Bio-X and Professor of Biology and Neurobiology. For her work, she has been awarded a number of prestigious awards, including the 2016 Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.

Source: Stanford University

Source: Official web site of the Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana
Nobel laureate, Rita Levi-Montalcini, was honored for her work in determining how nerve cells grow and development and the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). When anti-Semitic laws prevented Jewish people from practicing medicine, she created a laboratory in her home using eggs from nearby farmers to study nervous system development in chick embryos. After the war, she moved to Washington University in St. Louis where she continued her research and discovered there was a trophic factor sustaining nerve cell growth leading to the discovery of NGF. After she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986, she went on to become a Senator for Life in Italy.
Dr. Philippa Marrack (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, National Jewish Health), is a world leader and pioneer in basic immunology research. Her research primarily focuses on T cells and she was among the first to isolate the T cell receptor and discover superantigens. Dr. Marrack’s groundbreaking work and hundreds of publications have helped us understand T cells and how they function in autoimmune diseases. Dr. Marrack’s work has earned her a number of awards including the Louisa Gross Horwitz prize, often thought of as a predictor of the Nobel prize.

Source: National Jewish Health

The first person to clone and sequence HIV, Flossie Wong-Staal, reshaped our understanding of AIDS. In addition to cloning HIV, she also identified gene function and described the diversity of the virus between patients. Ultimately, she was one of the first to demonstrate that HIV depleted T cells, leading to the discovery that the HIV virus causes AIDS. Her work at the National Cancer Institute and University of California San Diego has been essential in our understanding of the disease.
Stem Cells
A world-renowned cell biologist, Elaine Fuchs, pioneered studies on skin biology, studying the differentiation of keratinocytes. Known as the creator of reverse genetics, she first engineered a gene to disrupt keratin function to determine how it affected transgenic mice phenotypes. Through her work at Rockefeller University, she has continued to describe the role of stem cells in cancer, uncover the role of the stem cell niche, and aid in our understanding of how they repair wounds and tissue.

Source: The Royal Society.
Jane Cooke Wright transformed cancer treatment with her contributions to developing chemotherapy. Dr. Wright was appointed the director of the Cancer Research Foundation at Harlem Hospital where she not only screened potential chemotherapy drugs, but was one of the first to use patient biopsies and tumor cells grown in culture to test individualized drug treatments. As a surgeon, she also developed new ways to deliver drugs to hard-to-reach tumors.

Mary-Claire King, Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at University of Washington, revolutionized our understanding of genetics and cancer. King was the first to demonstrate that breast cancer can be genetically inherited and mapped this region to the BRCA1 gene. Her impact on the scientific community began in graduate school where she was the first to demonstrate that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical. King continues to use genomics tools to better understand cancer and uses her expertise to help human rights organizations investigate abuses or identify missing persons. Dr. King has published over 250 papers and won countless prizes and honors for her work, including the Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science.
We continue to build partnerships and champion scientists from diverse backgrounds to enable these groundbreaking discoveries. Check out our careers page to join our team and help us develop better solutions for the scientific community. Or, learn more about International Women In Science Day and explore the resources below to discover more about these inspirational women.
Finding the Good in the Bad: A Profile of Rita Levi-Montalcini. Scientific America.
Women in Cell Science: Elaine Fuchs. Journal of Cell Science, 2004. 117: 4877-4879.
Phillipa Marrack, Ph.D. Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
Women in Science: Jane C. Wright revolutionized cancer research (1919-2013). The Jackson Laboratory.
A Conversation with Mary-Claire King. JCI Conversations with Giants in Medicine.
In Their Own Words: Flossie Wong-Staal, Ph.D. NIH History.
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