International Women’s Day: Dr Rosie Townsend

Dr Rosie TownsendInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

On International Women’s Day we are shining a spotlight on our incredible and inspiring women colleagues working in women’s health.

Dr Rosie Townsend is a Clinical Lecturer in the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health. Her research focus is understanding how preterm birth and still birth can be predicted and possibly prevented.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching? 

I am trying to understand how we could predict and possibly prevent some of the worst complications that can occur during pregnancy – especially preterm birth and stillbirth, events that have a massive impact on families every day. By personalising the advice we offer, we can make sure the right people are offered the right intervention at the right time and avoid unnecessary interference with the incredible physiological process of healthy pregnancy.

Why is this research so important? 

During pregnancy, parents are bombarded with messages about risk and keeping themselves and their babies safe – it can be really overwhelming. Again and again I speak to people who want to understand how the headlines about caffeine intake, sleeping practices, induction of labour or giving birth in different settings apply to them as individuals.

We have seen reductions in stillbirth rates in recent years, but we are still amongst the highest in Europe and this means we can still do more to save babies lives – I believe that giving pregnant people information that is accessible and tailored to them is a key part of this process.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to pregnancy?

There are some really good sources of information available that can break down what we do know and why certain recommendations are made during pregnancy. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists publishes very useful patient information on their website. I would encourage all pregnant people with questions or concerns to discuss with their midwife or doctor what the benefits, risks, alternatives and likely consequences of any decision might be.

International Women’s Day: Dr Ailsa Oswald

Dr Ailsa OswaldInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

On International Women’s Day we are shining a spotlight on our incredible and inspiring women colleagues working in women’s health.

Dr Ailsa Oswald is a medical oncology registrar, currently completing her PhD under the supervision of Professor Charlie Gourley at the MRC IGMM. Her research looks at the PARP inhibitor drugs that currently treat ovarian cancer with the aim to finding out if other cancers can be treated with them too.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching? 

I am a medical oncology registrar and I was delighted to be recently awarded a Cancer Research UK and AstraZeneca research fellowship. I started my PhD in January 2021, under supervision of Professor Charlie Gourley in the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

My research will involve investigation around PARP (poly ADP-ribose polymerase) inhibitors drugs, such as Olaparib. These drugs have revolutionised the outcomes for women with high grade serous ovarian cancer, the commonest subtype of ovarian cancer.

Why is this research so important? 

In recent years, PARP inhibitors have been approved for use in high grade serous ovarian cancer and also a selection of other cancers (such as breast, pancreas and prostate) in patients with genetic changes associated with faulty DNA damage repair (such as those with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation).

My research is aiming to expand the cancer types that may be amenable to PARP inhibitor therapy by detecting specific genomic changes relating to BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that may result in sensitivity to PARP inhibitor. This has the potential to identify more patients who may benefit from these drugs and improve our understanding of mechanisms of PARP inhibitor sensitivity.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to ovarian cancer?

In oncology, it is increasingly recognised that it is vital to have a clear understanding of the molecular basis of a cancer and how this can affect an individual’s sensitivity to different therapeutics. Using both these molecular findings and clinical trial data allows clinicians to assist patients in making informed decisions about their cancer treatment.

This means, with the help of their clinician/oncologist, women with ovarian cancer (and patients with other cancer types) can better understand their disease and make informed decisions about their treatment options (which may include PARP inhibitors).

>>Read more about research from the Gourley Lab at IGMM

International Women’s Day: Dr Ramya Bhatia

Dr Ramya BhatiaInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

On International Women’s Day we are shining a spotlight on our incredible and inspiring women colleagues working in women’s health.

Dr Ramya Bhatia is a Research Fellow and part of the HPV Research Group who together with the Scottish HPV Reference Laboratory (Department of Laboratory Medicine, RIE) and the Scottish HPV Investigator’s Network (SHINe) aims to undertake research that will help to improve health service provision for the prevention, detection and management of cervical cancer and other HPV related diseases.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching? 

My research is focussed in Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which causes cervical cancer but other ano-genital and oropharyngeal cancers and genital warts in women. My research interests are focussed on understanding HPV infection and how it causes cancers, how to prevent HPV infection with vaccines and how to detect pre-cancers through HPV screening and treat it before it develops into cancers.

Why is this research so important? 
There is tremendous need to progress research in this field as one woman dies every minute with cervical cancer globally. Other cancers cause by HPV causes which are also on the rise.

The knowledge and research by the international HPV research group so far has resulted in great progress in the last four decades including introduction of HPV vaccines for girls (and boys) and a change from the traditional cervical cancer screening to testing for HPV which is more sensitive and can detect cancers earlier.

HPV is a virus we can all beat and the WHO have called for everyone to work towards eradicating cervical cancer within the next 100 years. There is still a long way to go to get to that stage and research in this field is crucial.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to HPV prevention and cervical cancers?

Women have a crucial role in taking control of their health. Cervical cancer has a huge amount of stigma associated with it apart from being a debilitating and painful disease. But there are opportunities to find out more and learn about how HPV infections can be prevented through vaccinations and to prevent cervical cancer through routine screening.

So:

  • For all girls offered vaccine, please take the vaccine
  • Attend regular cervical screening appointments
  • Get treatment and seek advice if screening indicates a risk
  • Be aware of your bodies and symptoms and do not ignore your health!

Some resources to make informed choices:

>>Jo’s Trust

>>Eve’s appeal

>>Ask about HPV

>>Read more about Ramya’s research on her profile page

 

International Women’s Day: Dr Sarah Stock

Sr Sarah StockInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

Dr Sarah Stock is a Reader and Senior Clinical Lecturer in maternal and fetal Health at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health. She is also a consultant obstetrician, and sub-specialist in maternal fetal medicine. Her special interest in clinical practice is preterm birth prevention and management of intrauterine growth restriction, which remain big challenges.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching? 
My research aims to reduce baby deaths and improve child health through prevention of pregnancy complications such as preterm birth (birth before 37 weeks gestation), low birthweight and stillbirth. At the moment a lot of my time is spent trying to understand how COVID-19 infection and lockdown affects pregnant women and their babies, and whether we can learn lessons from this.

Why is this research so important? 
More than half of childhood deaths under 5 years old occur in the first month of life, mainly as a result from complications that arise in the womb or around the time of birth. Around the world 20 million babies are born each year with low birthweight, 15 million are preterm and 2.6 million are stillborn. There has been limited progress in reducing these deaths, partly through lack of understanding of mechanisms causing complications. This means we still have limited ability to predict and prevent complications.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to pregnancy?

Decision making in pregnancy is complex. Women have to think not only about their own priorities and own health, but also about the health of their baby. This is a really big responsibility! Getting the right information is crucial. Your midwife or doctor will be able to help explain options, but there are some brilliant resources available online that can help you prepare for discussions.  For example, at the moment many women have questions about COVID-19 and vaccination, and there is really brilliant information available on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) website.

>>View Sarah’s research profile page

>>Hear from Sarah in this CRH feature: Debunking the myths, Covid-19 Q&A

International Women’s Day: Dr Jackie Maybin

Jackie MaybinInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

Dr Jackie Maybin is a Senior Research Fellow and Consultant Gynaecologist. She studies menstruation with the aim of improving treatments for problematic periods and preventing their occurrence. Her current research team focuses on the physiology of menstruation and the aberrations that lead to problematic periods.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching?

Our mission is to develop preventive and therapeutic strategies for problematic periods, which are common and debilitating. We aim to improve the quality of life of those who menstruate, which will ultimately benefit wider society. To achieve this, our clinical team and discovery scientists perform innovative research to enhance knowledge of menstruation and associated disorders, collaborate globally, train the next generation of experts and engage with the public.

Why is this research so important?

Heavy menstrual bleeding affects up to 1 in 3 women at some point in their reproductive lives. Some people have such heavy periods that they can’t leave the house when menstruating as they flood through their menstrual products onto their clothes. Menstrual bleeding can be so heavy that a blood transfusion is required. Alongside these physical effects, problematic menstrual bleeding can result in work/school absence, an increased financial burden due to paying for extra menstrual products and an inability to carry out caring roles. Therefore, problematic menstrual bleeding can have far reaching negative impacts on physical, emotional, social and material quality of life. Our research aims to prevent problematic periods from occurring and to develop better treatments for those who do suffer. We hope this will help women to function at their best.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to your area of research?

It is fantastic for women to increase their knowledge of their menstrual health; knowledge is a powerful tool. To help do this, we have created a menstrual health website called HOPE – healthy optimal periods for everyone . Here, women and men can access reliable information about typical and non-typical periods, current treatment options and some of the research studies currently being done. There are also separate sections for employment, education and policy-making to help create menstrual friendly workplaces, improve how menstrual health education is delivered in schools and homes and inspire menstrual friendly policies.

A similar website has been developed for those with endometriosis. The NHS website also has excellent information on women’s health.

All too often women are dismissed if they present with menstrual problems. Looking though sites such as these before an appointment with your doctor can help inform discussions and optimise care. Without good education in schools for boys and girls regarding women’s health, women, their partners, employers and even medical professionals, can be unaware of what is ’typical’ and ’not-typical’. This can mean it is very hard to identify if there is a problem, never mind accessing good information and treatments.

More research funding for women’s heath would go a long way to improving the health of our entire population. The experience we all have inside the womb prior to birth influences our chance of getting diabetes or a heart attack in the future – it makes lots of sense to invest in research to optimise how the womb functions.

>>Read Dr Jackie Maybin’s comments in this article from the digital magazine ‘The Flock’.

It discusses the important issue of the gender health gap. Dr Maybin talks about how women may be excluded from vital medical research and trials. She explains the daily impact of this on women globally and how the health gap can be closed in the future.

>>Read about Dr Maybin’s experience of the clinical side of her work during the pandemic, in this Young Academy of Scotland blog post.

 

International Women’s Day: Dr Jeeva Reeba John

Dr. Jeeva Reeba JohnInternational Women’s Day celebrates women’s achievements, raises awareness against bias and encourages action for equality.

One of the missions of International Women’s Day 2021 is ‘to assist women to be in a position of power to make informed decisions about their health’. With that in mind we are shining a spotlight on some of our inspiring and incredible women colleagues working in areas of women’s health whose research work and clinical practice aims to do just that.

Dr. Jeeva Reeba John is a specialty registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. She is working with the Global Health Governance Programme team as part of a visiting scientist fellowship investigating the reasons behind racial variations in maternal mortality.

Which area of women’s health are you currently researching? 

My current research pertains to race/ethnic inequalities in maternal health outcomes. In particular, I am interested in investigating the root cause of disparities seen in maternal mortality and morbidity. I have undertaken a mixture of qualitative and quantitative work in order to so.
 
Why is this research so important? 

In the United States, there is a long history of unequal health outcomes that have been described between white pregnant women, and ethnic minority women. This phenomenon is less well known and researched in the UK, however it is very much the case as demonstrated by the confidential enquiry into maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidities triennial report (UK-MBRRACE).

Over the past few years, these discrepancies have been highlighted especially recently in the context of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has almost definitely exacerbated pre-existing inequalities. However, we are not much closer to understanding the reasons behind these differences.

I believe that rigorous, and well-structured research involving the right stakeholders is vital in order to bring much needed reform to UK-wide maternal health policies, which ultimately should help close this unacceptable gap.

How can women make informed decisions about their health when it comes to your area of research?

Despite free point-of-care access to health care in the UK, we know that women who have poor outcomes during or immediately following pregnancy experience barriers to accessing care, which may include inefficient communication with the health care provider, cultural dissonance and incongruence with experiences of maternity care elsewhere amongst other things.

It is important for women to be active and engaged members in decision making in relation to their pregnancy experience, and to feel empowered, and well within their rights, in doing so.

View Jeeva’s Global Health Governance Programme profile

Coming out in high school, as a teacher

Paul at work in the classroom
Me at work as a chemistry teacher at Kirkcaldy High School.

It started with the daily bulletin. Every day in a school does…

“The LGBT Group will meet in A18. Anyone interested in Equality is welcome”

“Surely we don’t need such a thing”, my inner voice said. “Surely we are in a world where everyone is equal and we don’t need to worry about these things.”.

I’m naïve and idealistic, I admit it. My other inner voice said something else: “You have recently got divorced and you’ve wondered about your sexuality since you were a bairn. This could be an opportunity to find out more.” That voice was louder.

Paul in sixth year at school
Sixth year me at school

So I found myself of a lunchtime round a table with sandwiches and a group of kids who were very open in discussion their attitudes towards sexuality and gender identity. A number of identities were mentioned – some I hadn’t heard of before: “non-binary” seemed to be a thing along with “pan-sexual” and “ transgender”. I considered my own sexuality. I’d had feelings towards all genders all my life but had decided I couldn’t be “gay” because I genuinely fancied women. I also didn’t want to be gay as it sounded like a lot of trouble.

“I’m Bi” said someone. Hmm, I’ve heard of that. That’s fancying boys and girls isn’t it? Hmmm. Bell rings, back to a crazy S1 class.

This was the pattern over the next wee while and over time, this term “Bisexual” became more and more familiar and more and more something I understood and could identify with. I figured out that was me, I was and am Bisexual – it makes sense! Only took 36 years.

I didn’t make any particular effort to “come out” as it didn’t seem like any kind of big revelation. I was on my own and had no particular plans to change that.

Paul ay Dundee Pride
At Dundee Pride

Wind forward to later that year. I was teaching “reproduction” to an S1 class. A classic topic in Biology that kids (and some teachers) fear. It’s common to do a “secret questions” box – that is an opportunity for kids to write down questions anonymously they wouldn’t want to ask publicly. I said I’d answer anything they liked and one kid asked “so if we ask you if you’re bisexual, you’ll tell us?”

Now this is interesting – the kid didn’t as “if we ask if you’re gay…” and at no point had I made any comment on my sexuality. I confirmed that if the question was asked, I would answer truthfully so amidst much giggling the question went in the box.

The questions started. “What is a clitoris?” (common one that), “Why do people have sex when they don’t want a baby?” (another common one!) and eventually “Are you Bisexual?”

“So someone’s asked me if I’m bisexual and the answer is….yes.”
Mild intake of breath. “I can’t believe you told us!”. “Why wouldn’t I?” “Oh, fair enough, what’s the next question?”

So, that’s how I “came out”. To a class of crazy first years. Unplanned, unscripted.

When Sir Ian McKellen visited Kirkcaldy High School
When Sir Ian McKellen visited Kirkcaldy High School

Wind forward a few more months. February 2017. Kirkcaldy High School is buzzing as a famous LGBT+ celebrity is to visit, talk to the seniors and have lunch with the LGBT+ Group. Exactly who it is, is a closely guarded secret which means of course that everyone knows it’s Sir Ian held the attention of a group of teenagers for an hour. No visual aids, not even using a microphone, but they were rapt. More attentive than I’d ever seen them. It was seriously impressive. After the talk we had lunch and the kids became the impressive ones as they engaged in intelligent and meaningful conversation with this aging thespian over soup and sandwiches. I could hardly believe my eyes and ears and I had never been more proud of my school, its’ teachers and kids.

That evening, the news of the visit went “viral”. The secret was out and of course, I joined in the conversation with relish. I went on to Facebook and posted this with the group photo of us all with Sir Ian.

“So this happened today. Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) visited Kirkcaldy High as a Stonewall Ambassador today. As an LGBT group member I got to have lunch with him. He was utterly charming and I think all of KHS fell in love with him hook, line and sinker. The kids did us utterly proud and kept the conversation going right through lunch. I’m always proud but today I’m especially proud to be a bisexual teacher at Kirkcaldy High School. Huge thanks and “well done” to Gillian Pirie for bagging us this one! 🏳️🌈”

The rest is history.

Paul Murray, Kirkcaldy High School, Fife. Came out 22/2/2017

Update: During LGBT+ History Month 2021 Paul was named by Pink Saltire as one of their ‘unsung community heroes’ – read the post here

Dr Paul Murray is a high school chemistry teacher who kindly responded (via a family member who works in the NHS) to our request to hear from members of the LGBTQ+ community about the importance of LGBTQ+ visibility and awareness in STEM. We are very grateful to Paul for sharing his experience.

Why LGBT+ visibility and awareness in the workplace is so important

Alain KempWhen I joined the University in 2012 as a research technician, LGBT+ visibility was fairly minimal at work. Before I moved to Edinburgh, I had been out as a gay man for about a decade and was quite comfortable with my identity. However, moving to a new city and workplace, I had to go through the whole “coming out” process all over again.

If you combine that with the stress of starting a new job, living by yourself in a new city and without a support network of local friends or family, it can be quite daunting. It took me quite some time before I felt comfortable in the workplace, as I engaged with people and got to know them better, and felt sufficiently at ease to simply be myself.

When the Staff Pride Network launched the rainbow lanyards several years ago, it changed my workplace in a significant way for me. The simple presence of rainbow lanyards throughout the institute, from students to members of senior staff, both fellow LGBT+ staff and allies, is incredibly uplifting and comforting. It is a strong signal that you can be your true self and focus on your work, from the first moment you set foot on site, no matter who you are or what level of career you’re at. I have often heard comments from new students, staff and even a visiting contractor on how welcoming the sight of the lanyards was for them.

It highlighted to me the importance of LGBT+ visibility, and it also introduced me to the Staff Pride Network. The impact of this campaign in particular was one of the main drivers for me to join the SPN and help with their work to make our workplace safe and welcoming for LGBT+ staff.

Alain J. Kemp
IGMM South (ECRC) Laboratory Manager
UoE Staff Pride Network Treasurer

Why I’m passionate about being an LGBT+ ally

Tara's lab at the 'Dance for your life' event
Me and my lab group at the ‘Dance for your life’ event

I’m a neuroscientist at the University of Edinburgh studying brain changes in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. One of the absolute best things about being a scientist is working with many different people with unique perspectives and ways of thinking. This is essential to tackle complex scientific problems.

That’s not just my opinion, there are a few studies out there indicating that papers with more diverse groups (based on nationality or ethnicity of names) are cited more often.

See this article in Nature

Zoom photo from our lip sync at our lab meeting movie
Zoom photo from our lip sync at our UK DRIlab meeting movie

Sadly, in STEM subjects, we seem to be losing brilliant minds as LGBT+ scientists often experience exclusionary, harassing behaviour at work, which leads people to leave jobs in science.

See this career feature in Nature

To help make the University of Edinburgh a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment for all who self-identify as part of LGBT+ communities, I am a member of the Staff Pride Network.

Outside of work, I’m also passionate about more widely increasing LGBT+ inclusion. Growing up in rural Texas, some of my close friends could not be themselves out of fears for their safety if people found out they were gay. But we have marched and we have voted and things have improved since we were kids.

Prof Tara Spires JonesA few years ago, I went back to Texas for a weekend (a long trip for 3 days), but I HAD to be there for the wedding extravaganza of one of these amazing people I grew up with. He was legally able to marry the love of his life and they now have two beautiful babies. I hope things will continue to change and improve and we can have both a workplace and a world where everyone can be themselves.

Prof Tara Spires-Jones, Neuroscientist, LGBT+ Ally, and aspiring Glamazon

Bi and pansexual folk belong in STEM, as they do anywhere else

Professor Sue Fletcher WatsonI’m a bisexual scientist. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve said that out loud, and I thought I’d say a bit about why that is and why I’m writing this blog.

So first, when I was starting out, there just weren’t opportunities like this.  Pride yes, but Pride IN STEM?  Definitely not.  I think I completely disregarded the idea that any aspect of my personal identity might be relevant to my science or my academic career. I don’t even remember if I was out at work when I was doing my PhD – which I guess means I probably wasn’t. But not in the closet either – I felt the two were entirely separable.

But there’s another factor too. I’m a cis woman, married to a cis man. I got engaged a month before I submitted my masters dissertation – I know, so young, but I did my undergraduate at St Andrews, notorious for fostering early weddings, so by those standards we were lagging behind. I was married by the middle of my PhD and was pregnant during my first postdoc. Hitting all these heteronormative milestones.

So during that time, my bi identity was completely erased. I am sure I would have gone along with assumption I was straight especially in strongly heterosexual environments like mum and baby groups. I remember that it was really only referenced when I was with people who had known me in my teens and early twenties. And in fact, I even recall the odd old friend saying things like ”remember when you were bi?” as if I had grown out of my sexual orientation.

At work, there was certainly no way to bring it up. I am sure I was – and still am – coded as straight by many.  This has left me with a nagging sadness about not being known, but also a complete inability to work out how to resolve it – short of regaling people with tales of my relationship history, which I was not keen on and in any case endorses the idea that being bi is all about promiscuity.

More recently, I started adjusting my hair and how I dressed to discourage people from coding me as straight – I was delighted when a colleague said they’d assumed I was a lesbian! At the same time, I started to see more Pride in STEM messaging, more people being visible – especially on twitter, which is such a powerful tool for marginalised identities. Finally, it was Bi Visibility Day and I decided to put “bi” in my twitter profile, do the odd tweet, and now here I am.

But I still definitely have some anxiety and reluctance in queer spaces. I worry that I have not had a “proper” LGBT experience.  Because I’ve been able to fly under the radar if I want to, I’ve never been on a Pride march, I don’t have a coming out story. I don’t even feel confident with the language sometimes.

It is easy for someone like me to glide through life looking straight – but it doesn’t feel like gliding. I’ve felt guilty for having it easy and sad for the disconnect between my identity and how I’m perceived. And I guess that’s exactly why its important to write this, even if I worry I haven’t earned a place on this blog.  Because ultimately, bi and pansexual folk belong in STEM, as they do anywhere else. It’s important that we show our faces once in a while.

Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson
{pronouns: she / her}
Chair of Developmental Psychology
Director of the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre