Women scientists have transformed biomedical research with their discoveries and we need their leadership to bring life sciences into the future. Most people are well aware of the fact that women in science are underrepresented at most research institutes. Scrutinize the percentage of academic department chair and leadership positions that are occupied by women–the numbers are minuscule.
This reality is quite unfortunate because ultimately, the gender gap in science adversely affects us all. When young girls pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), we double our potential for innovation, for progress, for developing the next groundbreaking cure.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve highlighted 15 research scientists who are leading current efforts in the fight to cure cancer and chronic illness. Their work has led to groundbreaking new discoveries, and today they are changing our fundamental understanding of disease and enabling development of innovative new treatments. These scientists are trailblazers; they just happen to be female. Learn more about these extraordinary women and their groundbreaking work below:
Dr. Regina Barzilay
Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT
By applying machine learning to cancer care, data scientist Regina Barzilay is helping doctors revolutionize the way they treat cancer patients. After realizing that statistical data on cancer is severely lacking, Barzilay, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, began collaborating with medical doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital and other researchers in the Boston area. Her work in natural language processing (NLP) enables machines to search, summarize, and interpret textual documents, such as those about cancer patients in pathology reports.
Professor of Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology, Yale University
Alanna Schepartz’s research has yielded promising new insights in understanding why lung cancer patients develop resistance to certain treatments. Her work has significant implications in the field of cancer drug discovery and could radically improve the outlook and prognosis for patients diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancers.
Professor of Chemical Engineering, MIT
Professor, David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Hammond has designed a multilayered nanoparticle that silences the genetic mutations that normally allow these tumors to survive chemotherapy. Her research surrounding time-staggered delivery of cancer drugs could potentially improve several types of chemotherapy that treat prostate, head and neck, and ovarian cancers.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Carleton College
Oesper researches algorithms which are currently used to infer information about tumor evolution. Her research aims to develop innovative computational approaches in order to understand the evolution of mutations in cancer genomes. She was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Computer Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) grant for her project “RUI: Computational Approaches for Inferring the Evolutionary Histories of Cancer Genomes.”
Associate Professor, Molecular and Experimental Medicine, Scripps Research Institute
The Felding Lab at TSRI seeks to develop effective approaches to prevent and inhibit metastatic disease. Through her research, Felding has made major strides toward curing cancer by figuring out the most effect way to target the part of cancer cells that drives tumor growth and metastasization.
Professor of Immunology and Microbial Science, The Scripps Research Institute
Linda Sherman and her lab research a phenomenon known as “T cell exhaustion,” which has broad implications for treating cancers and chronic viral infections. In particular, Sherman’s work has generated insights about our immune system’s overreaction in type 1 diabetes that could also be useful in boosting the body’s defenses and immunological response to cancer.
Dr. Berger’s lab seeks to better understand the complicated field of cancer genomics. Recently, Berger and her research team developed a technique to determine if a particular genetic mutation promotes cancer development and, if so, whether that mutation has the potential to form the basis of a new targeted treatment. Berger’s technique dramatically accelerates the speed at which researchers can begin to understand how different gene variants contribute to disease. In addition to helping researchers take a bird’s eye view of cancer genetics, Berger is currently studying the function of RIT1–a gene associated with lung cancer–and is working to identify the molecular pathways RIT1 regulates.
Data suggests that the quality of scientific research suffers in the absence of female researchers–the societal cost of the gender gap in science is insidious. Women are the most underrepresented demographic in scientific professions, but their under representation illustrates a need for increased diversity and inclusion of all groups, at all levels. When we encourage girls to pursue their scientific passions, when we encourage women to pursue careers in STEM, Melinda Gates recently pointed out, “we double our potential for innovation.”