Women in Science

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February, this week our MS and Me blogger Ciara O’Meara highlights the women of science and innovation who have changed the world for us all. 

The importance of science is too great to ever be underestimated or underappreciated. Without developments and continued progress and innovation in the world of science, we would not have the knowledge and information to understand the behaviour of the world around us. My own thinking on science has evolved dramatically throughout my own life journey. From a naïve and frustrated Leaving Certificate Chemistry student, I am now an avid subscriber to scientific research based journals and a research contributor. 

My initial train of thought on this topic ran something like this:

  • Marie Curie- The first person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields for her ground breaking work on radioactivity,
  • Leaving Certificate Chemistry- the fear of remembering the difference between organic and inorganic compounds and that dreaded periodic table
  • Florence Nightingale- the founder of modern nursing and instigator of professional training standards and better health outcomes
  • Fourth Year Bachelors Degree Nursing Research Proposal- literature reviews were the bane of my life and this concept of methodology and sample size was seriously impacting on my RAG week preparations
  • Dr. Rita Levi- Montalcini- Nobel Prize Recipient for her work on neurobiology. Dr. Montalcini also carried out research in conjunction with the National MS Society on identifying proteins that help nerve cells grow and stay healthy.
  • The pride and sense of achievement and empowerment when I handed in my own Masters Research Dissertation on ‘Parent’s Experiences of a Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis in their young adult sons/daughters’. 

Science can no longer be considered a male-dominated area; women and girls have always had a critical role in scientific research and development. And continue to do so.  

The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development focuses on the importance of science, empowerment and gender equality to achieve their identified goals. Given that less than 30% of researchers worldwide are women and in tandem with the UN’s goals for sustainable development, The United Nations General Assembly declared February 11th as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. 

Women are more at risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis in comparison to our male counterparts. Given this female dominance, it seems only right to give credit to some of the women and girls who have contributed to recent scientific research and development in the field of MS. 

Maria Howard, MD at Harvard Medical School (2018), focused her research on pregnancy and MS. Given the diagnosis of MS in women of childbearing age, her research examined annual pregnancy rates between women with and without MS and also studied medical insurance claims made in terms of complications which occurred post pregnancy. Her results were promising with an increase in women with MS becoming pregnant in comparison to a decrease in pregnancies among women without MS between 2006-2014. Medical claims relating to difficulties encountered post partum, i.e. birth complications, premature labours, were similar in statistics between women with and without MS.  Her research, in tandem with other studies, strengthens the understanding among women that pregnancy does not necessarily affect the long term clinical course of MS and can be done so successfully with the support and monitoring of health care professionals, new treatments and continued research. 

The importance of early screening and recognition of cognitive impairments in people living with MS has been highlighted through the work of Dr Rosalind Kalb (2018). Her research has focused on the importance of establishing standard baseline assessments for cognition, appropriate treatments, increased awareness and education among healthcare professionals and stricter monitoring. This initial research by Dr Kalb on the importance of cognitive health and monitoring among people with MS has paved the way for future researchers to develop on this identified need and work on tools to address these issues

Scientific Research in the field of MS is developing daily and women and girls are playing a more prominent role in their contribution to the field. There is an increase in female led research in the areas of drug therapy, complementary therapies for MS and an increase in the number of grants, funding and research scholarships awarded to females. 

February 11th is one day to mark the role that women and girls play in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Let’s encourage, empower and support girls and women every other day of the year. 

#WomenInScience #WomenInResearch

Check out these resources for further reading on scientists mentioned in the piece:

Maria Howard’s Research on Pregnancy

United Nations Homepage on International day of Women and Girls in Science

Female Scientists that have changed the world

Research on Cognitive Impairment and Recommendations for MS