Time to dissolve bias in STEM
On the eve of the UN’s International day for women and girls in science we spoke to Dr Sarah Hosgood about the importance of a sustained effort to encourage women into science and the incredible things she does with kidneys…
Inspired by the UN’s International day for women and girls in science we spoke to Dr Sarah Hosgood about the importance of a sustained effort to encourage women into science and the incredible things she does with kidneys…
There have been various efforts in recent years to encourage more women into scientific and technical careers – do you still think this is important?
It’s hugely important to continue to encourage more women into scientific and technical careers. With less than one in five female biomedical professors across the research sector, there is clearly a need to encourage women into the field and support them throughout every stage of their progression. Crucially, the sector needs to continue to adapt and become flexible to work-life balances and ensure women can pursue their careers in STEM right to the top. However, the focus shouldn’t solely be on encouraging women, but inspiring the next generation of scientists to ensure the UK stays at the forefront of innovation and to benefit people across the country.
The critical role women and girls play in science and technology communities has been woefully ignored in the past – do you think an ‘international day’ is enough to redress this? What else can be done?
The UN’s International Day for Women and Girls in Science is certainly a starting point in shining a light on the inspirational work of women in the sector. However, awareness should be consistent and unconscious biases need to dissolve to ensure the issue is addressed. I’ve been incredibly lucky working alongside Professor Mike Nicholson, who leads the normothermic perfusion project at Cambridge University and he has been a supportive mentor to me. Alongside mentoring and practical support, I think it’s crucial that institutions make the conscious decision to look at their data, identify if there is a gender imbalance and explore how it can be resolved.
You began your professional life as a veterinary nurse then as a paramedic, why did you make the transition to scientific research?
Throughout my careers, I have been exposed to different aspects of medical care. I always had an interest in science and research and was fortunate to take up the position as a scientific veterinary nurse at Leicester University. That’s where I met Professor Nicholson who recognised my passion for research and appointed me in the Department of Surgery at the University.
My main motivation is working in a research environment which directly helps patients – it’s something I find extremely rewarding. Transplantation in particular is the most successful treatment for people with end stage renal disease as it transforms their lives. Improving the quality of kidneys and increasing the number available for transplantation is certainly a driving force behind my passion.
You do incredibly clever things with kidneys – can you tell us a little more about your research
Normothermic perfusion is a revolutionary technique in transplantation surgery that could change the lives of kidney patients across the UK and it’s something we have been able to develop thanks to a £750,000 grant from Kidney Research UK. In normothermic perfusion, a donor kidney is placed in a special machine where it is flushed with a warm oxygenated blood solution. This repairs some of the damage caused by cold storage, allows protective agents and other drugs to be pumped through the kidney, and allows us to assess how likely the kidney is to work after transplantation.
Fifteen per cent of donor kidneys from donation after circulatory death donors are deemed unsuitable for transplantation. Being able to treat and understand these kidneys better through this technique, we hope to be able to perform more transplants and help even more people live free from the life-limiting effects of kidney disease.
In fact last year, the first pair of kidneys which had been declined by all UK transplant centres was successfully transplanted thanks to the perfusion technique. The kidneys were destined for medical research, which would usually mean they would be destroyed after samples have been taken. Instead, we used warm perfusion to resuscitate the kidneys, prove they were healthy and give two patients a new lease of life. This was extremely rewarding and has certainly inspired my passion for Science further!
Dr Sarah Hosgood is Research Associate on the normonthermic perfusion project funded by Kidney Research UK