The International Day of Women and Girls in Science recognises and celebrates the critical role played by women but also aims to promote their full and equal access to participation in science and technology communities.
This year we are showcasing the work of some of our inspiring female scientists and recent nominees of the SMD Women in Science Award. Here they tell about their research, what they are proud of, and any future plans for this research.
L-R: Zahra Raisi-Estabragh, Eirini Marouli, Lucy Norling
Since joining the university in 2018, Dr Zahra Raisi-Estabragh has published 27 peer-reviewed papers, with 16 of these as first author. As part of her doctoral research, she used large scale clinical and imaging datasets to elucidate several novel cross-organ interactions e.g. between the heart-brain and heart-bone organ systems. Alongside her PhD research, she has contributed to numerous other research projects covering diverse topics including COVID-19 disease patterns and development of novel cardiovascular imaging biomarkers.
“My research interests are centred on population health, big data cardiovascular epidemiology, and advanced cardiovascular imaging. I joined QMUL in 2018 as a BHF funded clinical research training fellow (CRTF) and PhD student. Recently, I was appointed as NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer at QMUL/Barts, which will allow me to work for up to 4 years funded by the NIHR, during this time I plan to work towards secure a Clinician Scientist Award or equivalent.
“My doctoral research has focused on investigating novel cardiovascular disease determinants and their interactions across different organ systems using large scale demographic, clinical, and cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) data in the UK Biobank. Through this work I elucidated several novel cross-organ interactions e.g., between the heart-brain and heart-bone. Since joining the university in 2018, I have published 27 peer-reviewed papers, with 16 as first author.
“Alongside my PhD research, I have contributed to numerous other research projects. In particular, I have led an international cross-disciplinary collaboration towards the development of as a novel technique for analysing CMR scans, CMR radiomics, for which I was awarded the 2021 Royal Society of Medicine cardiology president’s gold medal. I invented and led the development of a novel method for automated quantification of pericardial adiposity from standard CMR scans. I continue to lead the clinical validation of this tool, for which a patent application has been filed by Barts Health. Additionally, I initiated and co-lead the Healthy Hearts Consortium, an international collaboration across eight participating institutions with the aim of better understanding the structure and function of the heart in the healthy state and to work towards development of an international standard for CMR normal reference ranges. I have also contributed to work by Dr John Robson’s group (Clinical Effectiveness Group) towards improving cardiovascular prevention strategies in primary care.
“Furthermore, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I redirected my efforts to characterising clinical and demographic determinants of COVID-19 using the UK Biobank, contributing several publications. My work has been widely featured in the mainstream media and, importantly, has been used to inform NICE guidance. I have been instrumental in securing additional external funding from the BHF to continue a second phase of research using the UK Biobank Covid repeat imaging study, in which I have a leading role”.
Dr Eirini Marouli is a Senior Lecturer in Computational Biology at William Harvey Research Institute. Her multidisciplinary research extends to a variety of subjects including extends to thyroid function, disease and cancer.
“My research aligns with the multidisciplinary fronts for digital health and health data science for precision medicine, risk assessment, early detection and improved diagnosis. I had a leading role in the GIANT (Genetic Investigation of Anthropometric Traits) consortium, investigating the role of rare and low-frequency coding variants in human adult height (Marouli et al., Nature 2017). My research extends to thyroid function, disease and cancer. I explore multi-modal data fusion architectures using machine learning technologies to leverage correlations between datatypes towards accurate predictive models. In the future I plan to expand my research towards integration of biology, genetics, and clinical knowledge with AI, enhancing the cross-disciplinary impact.
“In my work I have been able to attract research-funding from competitive sources such as the CAP-AI (Capital Enterprise - European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)) grant. I also hold the Butterfield Award, creating links between Queen Mary and Osaka University (Japan) on anthropometric traits research”.
Dr Lucy Norling's area of work is that of Inflammation, which is a focused research theme of the SMD since 2015. In this area she has made scholar contribution to the definition of the anti-inflammatory properties of Galectin-1 and the pro-resolving lipid mediator Resolvin D1.
“I joined the WHRI as a post-graduate student on the MRes programme (2003) and then selected my PhD project researching the anti-inflammatory effects of Galectin-1 under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Dianne Cooper & Prof. Mauro Perretti in 2004. Following the completion of my PhD (2008) I was fortunate to have 6 months funding from the WT Value In People award scheme (Queen Mary) to obtain preliminary data for a fellowship application. I was awarded a 3 year Arthritis Research UK Foundation Fellowship (Sponsors Prof. Rod Flower & Prof. Charles Serhan) investigating the effects on novel omega-3 derived resolvins on leukocyte recruitment. The first two years I spent training at Harvard Medical School, Boston, with the mentorship of Prof. Serhan, and the final year I returned to WHRI to prepare for the next fellowship application. In 2012 I attained a 5 year Arthritis Research UK Career Development Fellowship (Sponsors Prof. Mauro Perretti & Prof. Costantino Pitzalis) to further my research on the role of resolvins in inflammatory arthritis. Since 2012 I have supervised a number of U/G and P/G students; I was principal supervisor for an MRes student, who was awarded a distinction and have co-supervised 7 PhD students that have successfully completed their PhDs and have gone onto highly prestigious post-doctoral or industry-based positions. In 2019 I was awarded a 5 year Versus Arthritis Senior Fellowship entitled “Reprogramming Resolution in the Arthritic Joint” and I was promoted to Senior Lecturer. My current research aims to determine whether inflammatory joint diseases persist due to an inadequate synthesis of specialised pro-resolving mediators (SPM) and explores how SPM protect and repair joint tissue. My group consists of four PhD students and a post-doctoral fellow addressing important research questions regarding the role of proteins, lipids and microvesicles on inflammation-resolution.
“My research focuses on inflammation resolution in the context of inflammatory arthritis. The discovery of omega-3 fatty acid derived specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators (SPM) provides a molecular mechanism for the beneficial effects of fish oil supplementation in patients with arthritis, and offer novel therapeutic approaches to treat inflammatory diseases. Supported by my Foundation Fellowship, I demonstrated that SPM inhibit PMN-endothelial interactions, dampen acute inflammation, and help fight infection. During my Career Development Fellowship I investigated the bioactions of SPM in experimental arthritis and found that resolvin D1 limits joint leukocyte infiltration, arthritis severity and protected from cartilage damage. We also determined that production of specific SPM including resolvin D3 is dysregulated in experimental arthritis, and that local SPM within murine joints can be modulated by omega-3 dietary supplementation.
“There is a clear need to develop new innovative therapeutic agents for arthritis that can both reduce the inflammation that drives disease AND initiate tissue repair and regeneration. With the support of a Versus Arthritis Senior Fellowship I aim to establish how SPM reprogram innate immune cells and stromal cells within the joint tissue to switch on repair mechanisms that temper the aggressive and inappropriate behaviour of cells within the joint tissue to ultimately protect the cartilage from erosion. The overarching goal of our research is to establish novel leads for the restoration of joint function to ultimately limit disability and improve the lives of patients with arthritis”.
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