3 women scientists made Dame Commanders of the Order of the British Empire

On June 12th, the Queen’s birthday honours list was announced. In total, 2% of the 1,163 people on it were recognized for their scientific work. Even if for the second time in history 51% of all recipients are women, men still outnumber them by almost five to one in the highest honours. DiscovHER proudly congratulates Prof Frances Ashcroft, 2012 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards Laureate, for having been made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire!

Dame Frances Ashcroft, GlaxoSmithKline Royal Society Professor at Oxford University, is globally recognized for her groundbreaking research into a rare genetic form of diabetes which has enabled many patients born with the disease to switch from insulin injections to tablet therapy.

In 1984, Prof Ashcroft discovered a protein (a tiny pore called an ion channel) that acted as a link between blood-glucose levels and insulin secretion. As a result, people with a rare inherited form of diabetes can now relieve their symptoms simply by taking an existing drug in pill form, rather than by daily insulin injections. The drug has improved their blood glucose control and so reduced the risk of diabetic complications, such as blindness and kidney disease.

The exhilaration of discovery

Science has always been an all-consuming passion for Frances Ashcroft.

To make a discovery, to know that you are a person who’s seen something for the very first time, is the most exciting thing in the world. It is really extraordinarily exhilarating. When that’s happened to you once or twice, you are hooked for life. And that exhilaration sustains you throughout the long years of work in the lab.

Professor Ashcroft insists that credit be shared with the many lab members and colleagues she has worked with over the years:

Science is a team effort and no one works alone.

A pill that changes lives

Meeting some of the people her work has helped has been very special for her.

It’s been an incredibly rewarding and emotional experience. I do science out of curiosity – from a desire to figure out how things work. If you work in a medically related field, as I do, you always hope that your work might ultimately benefit patients, but you never imagine that it will happen in your own lifetime. I have been incredibly lucky that it has done so.

Ask questions

At school, Professor Ashcroft took an interest in biology and chemistry (physics was not an option, ‘because it was a girl’s school’). Studying at Cambridge later was a ‘liberation’ because her tendency to ask questions was encouraged rather than frowned upon. 'Suddenly, this was where I belonged.'

Other female scientists made Dames in the Queen’s 2015 Birthday Honours list

Victoria Bruce, a psychologist at Newcastle University, UK, was made a Dame in recognition of her work in the field of visual perception. She researches all aspects of human face perception and person memory, including face recognition and recall by eye-witnesses and gaze and other aspects of social cognition. She is also interested in visual cognition more generally.

Anne Glover is a Scottish biologist and academic. She was Professor of Molecular biology and Cell biology at the University of Aberdeen before being named Vice Principal for External Affairs and Dean for Europe. She also served as Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission from 2012 to 2014. Prof Glover has also been a prominent advocate for women in science, and told the BBC that she hoped that other women scientists, and particularly young women, "look at me and think - if she can do that, so can I".

Share your thoughts on the 2015 Queen’s birthday honours list with @4womeninscience.

DiscovHER also congratulates Sir Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of the science journal Nature, who was among the 33 men knighted in the 2015 Queen’s birthday honours list. Sir Philip Campbell is strongly engaged in the fight for gender equality in science. Read his editorial: ‘Tackling researcher sexism’.

Photo Credit: © Julian Dufort

For Women in Science

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