International Women’s Day

Interviews with our incredible female scientists at Borne

International Women's Day 2020

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual event to celebrate women’s achievements and spread the message of female empowerment across the world. To celebrate IWD this year, we spoke to our four inspiring scientists who are looking for answers to preterm birth through medical research. We asked them about working in research, what inspired them as a child and their messages for the young girls today. 

Dr. Viki Male is Borne’s Principal Investigator. She was also one of the first to show that some immune cells in the human uterus produce a molecule called IL-22. In mouse studies, this molecule can prevent preterm birth in the face of infection. One of her aims is to see if it plays a similar role in humans.

Was there any incident you can share that inspired you on becoming a scientist or on taking on science?

When I was a kid, I used to get up early on Saturday mornings and watch TV. There was a programme which explained how the body worked by representing all the different cells as characters. Bacteria and viruses were the main “baddies” and the immune cells were the heroes. It was my favourite part of the whole week.

What is the importance of your research at Borne? 

I lead a group of four amazing scientists who are looking into how the immune system is involved in pregnancy. Most obviously, Emily Whettlock is looking directly at the immunology of preterm birth. But two other scientists in my group, Antonia Cuff and Ee Von Woon, are looking at the immunology of early pregnancy. It may seem surprising, but we think that many types of preterm birth have their origin at the beginning of pregnancy, if the placenta doesn’t implant properly. All this moves us towards finding cells and molecules that we can try to target to improve the outcomes of pregnancy for mothers and babies.

 

What is the most exciting or is there any interesting discovery you made during your research?

We think of immune cells as patrolling the body circulating in the blood. The discovery I’ve made that excited me the most was tracking cells in the human liver to discover a population of immune cells that is resident in the liver – unlike most immune cells it can’t leave in the blood. A team in Sweden is now using the approach I first used in the liver to see if the same is true in the uterus, and I will be very interested to know if it is

Post-doctoral scientist Dr Pei Fong Lai is studying myometrial tissue samples to examine how cAMP and progesterone signalling regulate the onset of contractions, both individually and together.

As we know that scientists are very curious to know about everything. So, were you a curious child?

Yes, I remember asking a lot of questions when I was a child, which I think my mum tried her best not to get annoyed by. I can imagine it was quite irritating looking back, but now it’s the other way around and she asks all the questions (though not all necessarily science-related).

Was there any incident you can share that inspired you on becoming a scientist or on taking on science?

Not so much one ‘incident’ but rather a few moments that accumulated during early education. I remember two children’s science books. The first was about organ systems of the human body, depicted as a beautifully illustrated metropolis. The other was a very humorous science encyclopaedia, which my brother bought me and was my favourite book at home. 

When it came to secondary education, my Year 9-11 science teacher, Mr Clifford, went above and beyond as an educator in a tough comprehensive school to make sure his students did their best to leave with at least a decent Double Science GCSE; I don’t think I would’ve become a scientist if it wasn’t for his resilience and dedication to teaching. 

What advice would you like to give to young girls?

Never fear failure, make every failure a lesson that adds value to your life rather than diminishes it, and never trust anyone who tells you that they have never failed.

Professor Rachel Tribe at King’s College London is working to develop a new test to identify women at risk of premature birth. The project is co-funded by Borne & Action Medical Research.

Were you a curious child?

I was too curious! This led to several accidents – riding a bike into a wall when trying to see whether I could memorise the path and cycle it with my eyes shut – first experiment aged 4 years old; and several head first dives into our garden pond whilst being fascinated by tadpoles and water boatman.

What is the importance of your research at Borne?  

Borne is fostering collaborative scientific research – this is essential if we are to ever solve preterm birth.

Was there any incident you can share that inspired you on becoming a scientist or on taking on science?

My biology teacher at Gumley House School – Mrs Barbara Napier – inspired me. Her approach to teaching encouraged us to question and think. She gave me the confidence to pursue a scientific career.

What advice would you like to give to young girls?

Girls make fabulous scientists – be curious and ask questions!

Noushin Masoudi is a Doctoral student at Imperial College London.

Was there any incident you can share that inspired you on becoming a scientist or on taking on science?

A teacher I had in my second year of high school told me that an idea I had while studying biology was already being researched by medical academia. That gave me hope that in future I could undertake work which could potentially be valuable to science. 

What is the importance of your research at Borne?  

By balancing the lipid profile of pregnant women, my research will help reduce the risk of having premature babies. Since specific types of fatty acids such as the Omega-3 and Omega-6 families play a critical role in inflammatory pathways, by knowing the optimal level of the aforementioned molecules, we can ensure a better pregnancy outcome. 

What is the most exciting or is there any interesting discovery you made during your research?

While I was studying for my first MSc degree in Iran, I discovered a new mutation on MECP2 gene, which hadn’t been reported before. Any mutation on MECP2 is responsible for a type of autism known as RETT syndrome.