Women in Science: Dr. Margaret Jane Pittman

In the world of scientific research, Dr. Pittman’s name stands out. She was a bacteriologist and one of the founders of vaccines against infectious diseases such as typhoid, cholera, whooping cough and meningitis. Dr. Pittman achieved another incredible feat as the first woman to give rise to a National Institutes of Health Laboratory in the US. This accomplishment dispelled the persistent gender stereotypes that had long prevented women from pursuing careers in STEM and showcased her extraordinary credentials and experience.

Dr. Margaret Jane Pittman was born on January 20, 1901, and grew up in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Dr Margaret Pittman graduated magna cum laude from Hendrix in 1923. In 1925, she took her first course in bacteriology. At the time, it was propitious. Later in the nineteenth century, bacteriology became a distinct biological science. She got her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1929 and started working for the National Institutes of Health in 1936. She developed, assessed, and standardised immunisation programmes against cholera, whooping cough, typhoid, and other diseases during most of her career. She continued to work at NIH as an unpaid guest. She occasionally served as a consultant for the World Health Organisation and as a guest scientist in several countries, including Spain, Scotland, Egypt, and Iran.

Her work and relentless efforts have revolutionised the world of vaccines and immunisation. Dr Pittman’s Haemophilus influenzae study has significantly influenced the medical field. Based on her research, numerous lives have been saved due to the creation of potent vaccinations, which has led to a notable drop in diseases linked to Haemophilus influenza. Pittman’s collaborations with esteemed scientists like Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin were essential in creating vaccinations against polio. They collaborated to carry out a great deal of research and clinical testing, which led to the development of the first effective polio vaccine. This enormous accomplishment was a game-changer in the global battle against polio, saving countless lives.

CREDIT: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Margaret Pittman and fellow NIH physician Sadie L. Carlin are “reading” an agglutination reaction, part of the test for potency of commercially prepared anti-meningitis serum during the meningitis epidemic of 1935-1937 (1937).

As a woman in a male-dominated field, Margaret Pittman faced numerous challenges throughout her career. In an era when gender bias was pervasive, women struggled with standardisation and opportunities for advancement in scientific research. Pittman’s journey was the same, as she faced challenges that would have prevented her from moving further. The legacy of Dr. Margart Jane Pittman endures today, as her contributions continue to influence the direction of immunisation research. She stated that revolutionising problems with pertussis immunisation makes this work one of my best accomplishments that “despite the problems that have occurred with the pertussis vaccine… I consider this work one of my best accomplishments.”. Her partnerships and contributions have established a standard for upcoming generations and cleared the path for additional developments in vaccine research. By honouring her outstanding accomplishments, we can ensure that her influence on public health continues to be a driving force in the battle against infectious illnesses.

Written by Rabia Saleem

Congratulations to Dr Cat Murphy!

November 22, 2023 – Catherine was officially coined Dr Catherine Murphy. A Big Day for Catherine, her family and me.

Catherine joined our team in July 2019 to carry out a research project funded by Neuroblastoma UK. In this project, she aimed to use 3D culturing to engineer a novel experimental model and study the biology and immunology of neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. There was the full spectrum of challenges and hard work spiced up with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 restrictions!

The PhD journey is never a straight line. It has a range of colours with 50+ shades for each. There are black alleys and hidden cul de sacs. Between July 2019 and June 2023, some days were sunny and bright, and some had scattered showers, gale winds and stormy snow, with sunshine developing elsewhere. The journey was spiced up with publications, conferences, travels, days out and fundraising events with the team.

Of note, she was behind our Twitter activities and blogging #AskCat, making our team visible! All these together have moulded into a new multi-skilled professional – Dr Catherine Murphy!

Well done to Catherine! Wish you the best of luck in your new adventure!

Women in Science: Dr. Nina Marie Tandon

Throughout history, women in science have faced the hard challenge of navigating societal biases and limited opportunities in their pursuit of scientific discovery. Many of them were unjustly denied access to education and research positions just because of their gender, as it was thought that women were not capable of rigorous scientific work.

In the present, women in science (and in many other fields) still need to face many obstacles and challenges:

  1. Gender Bias: Women in science still encounter bias and stereotypes that can hinder their progress. They may face scepticism about their abilities and qualifications, leading to a lack of recognition for their work. Gender bias can also manifest in subtle ways, affecting opportunities for advancement and funding.
  2. Unequal Pay: Gender pay gaps persist in many scientific fields, with women often earning less than their male counterparts for similar work and qualifications.
  3. Limited Representation in Leadership Roles: Women remain underrepresented in leadership roles within academia, research institutions, and industry.
  4. Work-Life Balance: Balancing a career in science with family responsibilities can be particularly challenging for women. The demands of research, long working hours, and frequent travel can conflict with traditional gender roles and family expectations.

A woman and scientist who has certainly not let herself be stopped by all these adversities is Dr. Nina Marie Tandon. She has been a key player in the field of biomedical engineering, tissue engineering, and regenerative medicine. Her work focuses on developing innovative methods to grow artificial organs and tissues, using patient’s own cells to engineer tissues and organs. One of the cornerstones of Tandon’s work is the use of induced pluripotent stem cells. iPCs were developed in Japan pretty recently and are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like pluripotent state. This enables the development of an unlimited source of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes.  

Tandon and her team employ cutting-edge bioreactors and 3D printing techniques to construct tissues: bioreactors provide a controlled environment for cells to grow and develop into specific tissue types, while 3D printing technology is used to create complex structures that mimic the architecture of natural organs.

In 2013, Tandon co-founded EpiBone, a biotech company that specializes in growing personalized bone grafts. EpiBone employs patient-specific stem cells to create skeletal structures based on individual DNA profiles, reducing the risk of rejection, streamlining surgical procedures, and potentially expediting patient recovery. They use a three-step process that begins with obtaining bone measurements and stem cells from abdominal fat via a CT scan, followed by creating a bone model in a bioreactor to stimulate growth. Finally, the patient’s own stem cells are added to the newly developed bone in the bioreactor, resulting in a fully functional replica bone ready for use.  Nina Tandon is also known for her engaging and informative TED Talks, where she discusses the future of medicine, tissue engineering, and the impact of regenerative medicine on healthcare.

I really admire Nina’s work, which I find genuinely fascinating. I believe her passion and determination come through in her TED talks, where she effectively manages to communicate complex scientific concepts and the potential of regenerative medicine to a broad audience.

Click on the image to listen to one of her TED talks. Enjoy it 🙂

Written by Federico Cottone

Women in Science: Rosalind Franklin

On a blog post series of Women in Science by a Cancer Bioengineering lab, you didn’t think you were going to get around reading about Rosalind Franklin, did you? In recent years, she finally started to receive the acknowledgement she is owed, placing her all the way up there in terms of famous scientists with Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.

As mentioned by Ellen last week, there were only ever 13 women to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. But in 1962, it was erroneously bestowed upon three men for the scientific breakthrough of a woman. This blog post would just as well fit into a true crime in science series.

All down to misogyny and a single piece of evidence: Photograph 51, an X-ray crystallography of the structure of DNA viewed perpendicular to the DNA fibre axis, revealing the double helix structure.

You will likely all remember James Watson and Francis Crick from biology classes in school. You were probably taught that they figured out the structure of DNA.

But at the same time, they worked together in Cambridge, Franklin was working together with her PhD student Raymond Gosling at Kings College in London. Forced to work alongside Maurice Wilkins, who did not take well to her confident, goal-oriented ways, which led her to criticise her well-respected peers and dared to interrupt and correct them.

Leading to her downfall in the race with Watson and Crick was that Franklin complied with her understanding of scientific ethics, and rather than rushing to publish her findings, she sought to verify them and replicate the findings in Photograph 51.

Betrayed by her colleague Wilkins after ample tensions over the years. He passes her priceless finding to the competition, allowing Watson and Crick to model the double helix, publish a breakthrough paper and relegate her to a methods paper in the same issue of the nature journal.

Tragically, her young death at 37 from ovarian cancer prevented her from witnessing the Nobel Prize being awarded for discoveries in the molecular structure of DNA four years later. Which in 1962 was not to be awarded posthumously. Instead, her reputation for years was dominated by the more than unflattering recollections in James Watson’s biography. The book clued the public into the crimes the three men committed. All the while tarnishing Franklin’s name, portraying wildly misogynistic images and downplaying her indisputable contribution to science. Only after society as a whole changed its views on women and misogyny did perceptions of Rosalind Franklin and James Watson finally get corrected.

Today, Rosalind Franklin’s legacy stands as a symbol of tenacity, intellect, and an unyielding spirit that will inspire generations to come. It is about time that science books get rewritten to remind us that those are the virtues we should hold in high regard. Rather than the yearning for glory and a legacy that we see in the pressure to publish, the chase of impact factors never intended to rank journals and scientists but as a tool for librarians and the impossible climb through academia, forcing impossible expectations on principal investigators to take on endless students and responsibilities. Let’s take this opportunity to refocus and make sure it’s the pursuit of knowledge and answering questions that drive science forward that determine our decisions.

Written by Ronja Struck

Women in Science: Madame Curie

Women have made significant contributions to the field of science throughout history, but they have often faced gender-based barriers and discrimination. Despite the challenges, several pioneering women made significant contributions to various scientific fields. Marie Curie, for example, conducted ground-breaking research in radioactivity and was the first person (and remains the only woman) to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific disciplines (physics and chemistry). In 1903, she received the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity. Later, in 1911, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her contributions to the understanding of radium and polonium. These discoveries had a profound impact on the understanding of atomic and nuclear physics and laid the foundation for numerous scientific and medical advancements. They led the development of X-ray machines for medical diagnosis and the development of cancer treatment through radiation therapy (NobelPrize.org, 2023).

As a woman in the 20th Century, Madame Curie too faced early struggles with financial and gender-related challenges in her pursuit of education. She had to work hard as a governess and in other low-paying jobs to support her sister’s education before she could attend University. Her struggles continued into her research, where she first published her early scientific work under the pseudonym “Pierre Curie” to avoid gender bias and prejudice. This allowed her to have her work taken more seriously. However, despite her struggles to receive an education, in 1906, Marie Curie herself became the first Female Professor at the University of Paris (MarieCurie.org, 2023)

Marie Curie not alone made epic contributions to science, she was also involved in war efforts. During World War I, Marie Curie developed mobile radiography units, or “Little Curies,” to provide X-ray services to wounded soldiers. She and her daughter, Irène, operated these units on the front lines. She also served as the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and trained nurses and doctors in radiography (Davis, 2016).

Madame Curie passed away on July 4, 1934, in Sallanches, France, but her legacy in the world of science endures. Marie Curie’s personal cookbook and other belongings are still radioactive and are stored in lead-lined boxes at the National Library in Paris. They will remain radioactive for thousands of years. The Musée Curie (Curie Museum) is a museum located in Marie Curie’s former laboratory at the Institut du Radium in Paris. It showcases her personal artefacts, laboratory equipment, and documents related to her research on radioactivity. If you are holidaying in Paris, you can take an hour and explore the laboratory space and learn about the scientific achievements of Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie. For me, Marie Curie’s dedication to research, numerous contributions to the field of radioactivity, and her status as a trailblazing woman in science is inspiring. I hope her legacy will continue to inspire generations of scientists and serve as a testament to the power of scientific curiosity and perseverance.

Fun fact: Radium became a popular element in various consumer products during the early 20th century. It was added to items like toothpaste, face creams, and even drinks, all of which claimed to provide health benefits. Marie Curie herself endorsed some of these products before the health risks of radiation exposure were well understood (Santos, 2021).

Written by Ciara Gallagher

Reading:

DAVIS, A. 2016. How Marie Curie Helped Save a Million Soldiers During World War I The radiology pioneer developed and operated mobile X-ray units to treat the injured. Available: https://spectrum.ieee.org/how-marie-curie-helped-save-a-million-soldiers-during-world-war-i [Accessed 2023].

MARIECURIE.ORG. 2023. Marie Curie the scientist [Online]. Available: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/who/our-history/marie-curie-the-scientist#:~:text=Born%20Maria%20Sk%C5%82odowska,She%20never%20lost%20this%20passion. [Accessed].

NOBELPRIZE.ORG. 2023. Marie Curie [Online].  [Accessed 24/10/23 2023].

SANTOS, L. J. 2021. “A Revolutionary Beauty Secret!” On the Rise and Fall of Radium in the Beauty Industry. LitHub.

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2023

Every September, we celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about childhood cancer. Unfortunately, kids get cancer, too. While much research has been done to understand how cancer develops in adults, we still know very little about what exactly leads to cancer in children.

We are the Cancer BioEngineering Group led by Dr Olga Piskareva at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Our research focuses on neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer of immature nerves. The group has 7 PhD students developing research projects around neuroblastoma biology. One postgraduate student successfully defended her work and was awarded a PhD last month.

We are a dynamic group proud to be engaged in research, science communication and patient involvement. We do that through different initiatives. Throughout September, we will share many of them and invite you to keep following us on social media. 

Team 2023

Our projects address topics related to neuroblastoma microenvironment, cell interactions, tumour resistance and the development of new therapies. To do that, we use 3D in vitro models, identify immunotherapeutic targets and evaluate extracellular vesicles.  

We are always happy to answer questions and interact with the public. Follow us on our social media channels and read our blog to learn more about us and our research.  

We are running a fundraising event, “A knit-a-thon,” on the 19th of September. Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading, and we go ahead with neuroblastoma research! 

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

We celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month every September. This is our chance to talk about this cancer, the patients and their families and what can be done to make a change.

Together with Prof Richard Arnett we asked a question – how intense is communication about neuroblastoma/childhood cancer on Twitter. There were 52126 neuroblastoma tweets in 69 days. Is it a big number?

#neuroblastoma on Twitter

Yellow dotes represent tweets. The intensity of yellow reflects the number of tweets per account. Many of them formed isolated communities with no connections. A few reach out. And this is very sad, it means that these communities do not interact with each other.

Communities have to come together then they will be heard. The Childhood Cancer Awareness months is a great opportunity to do it.

SFI Technology Innovation Development Award

An interesting idea or research question is always motivational. But it is a sketch till you get means to answer them. We, scientists, have to shape them into a proposal showing that we know limitations and have plans B & C if things go differently to planned. Then we apply for funding here and there… and many many times. The number of rejections makes us stronger – I hope. But one day, the idea may hit it right. So, it has happened to me recently and this SFI Award brings so needed fuel to study neuroblastoma.

The development and approval of new oncology drugs are very slow processes. This is mainly due to the big differences in the physiology of cancer cells grown on plastic and in the native microenvironment. Tissue engineering of tumour systems has a great potential to bridge this gap. This Award will help to advance our 3D tissue-engineered of neuroblastoma, that can be used in testing new drugs and new combinations of existing drugs.

Neuroblastoma cells grown in 3D

In particular, we will adapt the 3D model to screen different immunotherapies. This treatment option is very attractive both for adults and children because of its specificity and reduced side effects compared to chemotherapy, the current standard of care.

This Award will help my team to get a better understanding how neuroblastoma cells interact with the body environment, particularly with the immune system and how we can use the knowledge to develop new treatments and improve the patient outlook.

International Childhood Cancer Awareness Day – February 15th 2019

International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD) was founded in 2002 by Childhood Cancer International (CCI). Each year on February 15th we unite together to recognise childhood cancer as a national and global child health priority & to raise support, funding and awareness of this devastating desiease.

This year we team up with Amorino to run Hot Chocolate Morning.  Please come along! All proceeds go to CMRF/NCRC and CFNCRF.

If you can’t join us, you can simply follow the link and donate ‘a cup of coffee/hot chocolate’ to CMRF Crumlin, the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Research Foundation & Childhood Cancer Foundation


Facebook Collection

I have a nice collection of pictures related to our lab activities or research, not all of them were posted here. Hope, that Facebook could provide an additional nice platform to store and share them. I am grouping them by theme in an album and link with a relevant blog post.

Let see how it would work!