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International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2021

09/02/2021

Carrying out research into the best way to fight children’s illnesses has been one of our main ambitions ever since GOSH opened in 1852. We wanted to take this opportunity of International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2021 to highlight just some of the women and girls who contribute to the breadth of science and research excellence at our hospital.

Professor Lucy Wedderburn leads the Rare Disease Cohorts theme at the NIHR Great GOSH Research Centre (BRC). The Centre supports medical research for children and young people at GOSH and the UCL GOS Institute of Child Health (ICH) – it is the only paediatric BRC, aiming to accelerate discoveries into the basis of childhood rare diseases and to develop new diagnostics, imaging techniques and treatments, including cellular and gene therapies.

Professor Wedderburn has been at GOSH for over a decade as a Consultant. She is also a Professor in Paediatric Rheumatology at UCL GOS Institute of Child Health (UCL GOS ICH) and Director of the UK Centre for Adolescent Rheumatology Versus Arthritis at UCL GOSH. Alongside seeing children with arthritis and other rheumatology conditions, Professor Wedderburn runs research to investigate the mechanisms and different types of these diseases, as well as what controls response to treatment.

She also leads CLUSTER, a UK-wide consortium of researchers who investigate personalised treatments for Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and JIA-linked-uveitis, an associated eye condition that can cause children to lose their sight.

Dr Laura Turner, the Deputy Director of Operations at the GOSH NIHR BRC “Our BRC - where Professor Wedderburn is one of two Deputy Directors alongside Professor Lyn Chitty - underpins all research at GOSH. It allows us to embed translational research opportunities for all our staff across the entire hospital and is a big part of our strategy to realise our vision as a Research Hospital.”

Dr Lola Solebo is an NIHR Clinician Scientist (Associate Professor) of Epidemiology and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist at GOSH. Her research interest is in how we predict, and what decides the outcomes for children with blinding eye diseases, and how we can best use this information to improve care and make an impact in the ‘real world’.

“I was a PhD student at UCL GOS ICH in the Population, Policy and Practice Research and Teaching Department, and I’ve stayed because of the warmth, generosity and cross-disciplinary nature of my department, and the quality and impact of our work”.

Her PhD research in cataracts changed clinical practice and impacted on national policy.

She has a refreshing attitude to dealing with work pressure, which she discussed on MedSciLife: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. I try to keep those words in mind during my working week, which is a balancing act familiar to many. Although I give as much as I can to my various roles – researcher, clinician, policy maker, parent, partner and generally humane human, not necessarily in that order – when the balance tips, I forgive myself and start again. In order to recognise perfection from excellence, I step outside myself and imagine giving advice to a good friend. That temporary illusion of distance is helpful.”

Dr Polly Livermore is the Clinical Academic Career Programme Lead for Nursing and Allied Health Professionals in the Centre for Outcomes and Experience Research in Child Health, Illness and Disability (ORCHID) at GOSH. She was awarded a competitive NIHR Clinical Doctoral Fellowship to obtain her PhD, taking time out from her other role as Matron in the Trust. Her research investigated the lived experience and psychosocial aspects of Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) in children and young people around the UK. Polly’s work highlights the huge role that uncertainty and a perception of burden plays for children and young people with a rare, chronic health condition. This research has helped raise the awareness of well-being in JDM, encouraged health care professionals to discuss these issues and is the catalyst for future planned work to implement a peer-to-peer mentorship scheme to reduce the feelings of isolation and increase young people’s support.

“I loved every minute of my PhD research project. As a nurse with a clinical background, there are not many opportunities to investigate our own questions and see if they can improve patient care in the real world. There can be an idea that undertaking research is not ‘proper nursing,’ but the knowledge and skills I have learnt throughout my research has made me a more inquisitive, compassionate and driven health care professional and I am excited to embed research activity in all aspects of my future career. In my Clinical Academic Lead role with ORCHID, funded by the GOSH NIHR BRC, I am determined to encourage and mentor more nurses to undertake their own research projects and ensure that they are supported at every level in the organisation. This is important to attract and retain more amazing nurses, as we strive to make GOSH one of the best Paediatric Research Hospitals in the world, not just a hospital that does research.”

At GOSH, young people aged between 8–21 who are interested in improving health by advising on research can join our Young Person’s Advisory Group (YPAG). YPAG provide feedback to help researchers carry out studies which are relevant to children and young people. YPAG is part of a national network of groups called Generation R, and our London group is one of five around the country.

We asked Lauren and Oceiah how they felt about being part of YPAG, science and what they’d like GOSH research to answer:

Oceiah, 17:

“I have been involved with GOSH's Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG) and Young Persons Forum (YPF) since 2016.  I attend meetings throughout the year, as well as many focus groups. Some of the things I have been involved in, include: two different GOSH Takeover Challenges (growing cells and haematology testing); helping designing hospital equipment, logos and the genome video, as well as regularly giving feedback to GOSH and UCL and other researchers on their studies, reports and leaflets. I have really enjoyed being part of GOSH's pioneering work.

I find science absolutely fascinating, everything is new and amazing as you haven't seen it before. Science is everywhere. Time flies by in all my science lessons. The bangs, flashes of colour, not knowing what your teacher will surprise with you next and even the unpleasant smells; I love it all!

I have been inspired the most by two young female science teachers. They have both passed their baton of excitement to me. I hope to become a teacher myself- one day.

I have two questions that I would like GOSH research answer:

  • How is online learning impacting students' eyes and neurological functions of the brain, both short and long term?
  • When will scientists be able to grow patients' new teeth within their own jaw, so we can have them instead of fillings or false teeth?”

Lauren, 20:

“YPAG was what initially introduced me to research back in 2017. We have six day-long meetings a year where researchers share their work, and we get to have informative discussions about it.

I like how there’s so much scope in science – anything from astrophysics to neuroscience, and everything in between! The other fantastic thing about science is that it’s always progressing with new discoveries, which really keeps us on our toes.

I’m super lucky to be studying medicine which means that there’s so much choice to explore. I’m currently really interested in paediatrics, or specialising in neurology or immunology. I’ve yet to start placement, so I imagine that my mind will change!

I would like to know whether you could see personalised/ precision medicine rolled across the population – even in primary healthcare?”