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Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

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Today (11 February) marks International Day of Women and Girls in Science, which recognises the vital role that women and girls play in science and technology, while advocating for full and equal access and participation in science.

Surround yourself with smart, generous and kind people that elevate others, and do the same for your peers.
Dr Zania Stamataki
Dr Zania Stamataki

According to the UN, just 30 per cent of researchers worldwide are women, and only 35 per cent of all students enrolled in STEM related fields are female. Women are underrepresented in senior levels of science and face barriers to career progression.

At the Medical Research Foundation, we're committed to supporting the careers of female scientists and researchers. Of our funding calls that are open to all researchers (i.e. where the funding isn’t restricted by a donor’s wishes), 48 per cent of grants have gone to female researchers, rising to 57 per cent of grants awarded last year (2019/20).

Our Emerging Leaders Prize also helps researchers progress their careers and take their research to the next level. To date, 59 per cent of these prizes have been awarded to women.

To mark this day, we have spoken to one of our own inspirational women in science, Dr Zania Stamataki. Dr Stamataki’s study, based at the University of Birmingham, is investigating the impact of targeting a new biological phenomenon called enclysis in viral and autoimmune hepatitis (AIH).

What inspired you to pursue a career in research?

“I didn’t know much about a scientists’ career path when I was growing up, but I have always been curious and inquisitive. I enjoyed biology and studied this at University, and a charismatic immunology professor got me excited about the topic. I carried on with postgraduate studies to see if a career in laboratory-based research was for me, and I loved it. I am now an academic who gets to transmit her passion for science to others while discovering and innovating in the lab.”

What advice would you give to your younger self or other aspiring female scientists?

“I am the sort of person who draws inspiration from others. Why not find yourself a few mentors that inspire you? Hear about their careers and life choices, what went right and how they dealt with setbacks along the way. Surround yourself with smart, generous and kind people that elevate others, and do the same for your peers. Networking is important and it doesn’t always come naturally, make an effort to get to know others in your field and allow them to get to know you too. Collaboration leads to more exciting and more reproducible science.”

What has been your greatest achievement in your career?

“I discovered a new biological process for liver immune regulation: we called it enclysis where the main cells of the liver, hepatocytes, actively engulf immune cells and destroy them. I applied for a Medical Research Foundation Fellowship to explore if toggling (turning on/off) the process of enclysis would benefit patients with liver autoimmunity and viral infection. If our hypothesis is correct, we will apply for more funding to test enclysis blockers and enhancers in the lab and ultimately in clinical trials.”

How has your research focus changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

“As a viral immunologist, I found the emergence of the new coronavirus an exciting scientific challenge. I repurposed our labs to culture live coronavirus and topped up my training. I then developed tests for new disinfectants, antivirals for medicines, surfaces and fabrics, and I set up tests to monitor immunity in patients that recovered from COVID-19 and in vaccinated people. My team now has another virus to study on top of our favourite hepatitis viruses -and this one grows beautifully in the lab.”

To find out more about Dr Stamataki’s research, visit our website.

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