Women in science: Tackling FGM, creating designer pigs and advancing cardiology

20170418130000, Brenda Lau
L-R: Dr Ivona Percec, Dr Luhan Yang, Dr Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmathi. Photo credit: Michael Persico, Stat News, Indian CEO.
In science and technology, women are often massively underrepresented and undervalued. However many have made some of the most important and inspiring contributions towards advancing healthcare and research. Here, three outstanding women are profiled.

1. The surgeon who hopes to heal women who underwent FGM


44-year-old Ivona Percec, an American cosmetic surgeon has developed a method to restore women's physical and psychological sense of well-being after they have been subjected to female genital mutilation. Her findings are published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal to aid other surgeons with dealing with such patients.

When Percec encountered her first patient, she was speechless with shock as the patient had been suffering in silence for so long.

"It was a psychological shock that this woman had kept the burden to herself. She didn't even let her husband see what had been done to her," says Percec, who is associate director of Cosmetic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. "She had lived in this country for multiple years, and had never before tried to get help."

Percec set out to correct this. She read cosmetic surgery journals for more information on reversing the procedure, but found little beyond the cultural aspects of the practice. There were no surgeons with experience. She proceeded to do the best she could to help her patient.

Now, Percec is one of a rising network of doctors in the US and around the globe who are offering new solutions to these victims. She is also urging her hospital to include a clinic that treats FGM like how cleft palates would be treated in the US - instead of speech and Ear Nose and Throat specialists, there would be sex therapists, psychologists and urologists.

2. Creating "designer pigs" to address shortage organs for transplantation


Luhan Yang, an intensely driven 31-year-old has already led a breakthrough 2013 study on the genome-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, and in 2015, she cofounded the biotech company eGenesis with George Church, a renowned bioengineer.

So it comes as no surprise if she succeeds in her goal of utilising CRISPR to create "designer pigs", to generate organs to be transplanted into people to address the shortage of organs that has led to the proliferation of illegal organ harvests in China .

However, experts said it would take a few decades to genetically alter pig organs that will work safely in people. But as eGenesis's chief scientific officer, Yang has overcome many barriers by using CRISPR to eliminate 62 genes from pig cells in 2015 - that were the problems of previous failed efforts to turn pigs into organ donors - and raising USD38 million from investors.

The next hurdle is just to get surrogate-mother sows to give birth to healthy genetically altered piglets as many end up in miscarriages. This is because mother pigs tend to reinfect fetuses with porcine endogenous retroviruses (PERV), which causes tumours, leukaemia, and neuronal degeneration if transplanted into patients. So for xenotranplantation to succeed, PERVs have to be eliminated. Sometimes PERVs can also be found in embryos before implanted into the surrogate mother.

"Her work has the potential to change the face of transplantation and to save countless lives," said Dr James Markmann, chief of transplant surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

3. The first woman cardiologist of India


Most notable is Dr Sivaramakrishna Iyer Padmathi who at 98-years old has accomplished many researches on cardiology-related subjects, including high blood pressure, rheumatic heart disease and coronary arteries.

Now, she is the Director of the National Heart Institute at Delhi and the Founding President of the 'All India Heart Foundation', India's first heart foundation.

"I have seen the world of cardiology grow under my eyes," says Padmavati, the first Indian woman cardiologist.

Padmavati has come a long way since her studies at the Rangoon Medical College where she was the first female student to complete her MBBS magna cum laude.

She then trained herself in cardiology in the UK and the US in the late '40s and the early '50s. In the US, she joined John Hopkins University to train under Dr Helen Taussig who performed the first surgeries on blue babies and continued to study under Dr Paul Dudley White, the father of modern cardiology at the Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Later on, she studied in Sweden before returning to India in the early 1950s. She was offered a position at Lady Hardinge Medical College and managed to do most of her research there as there were many opportunities that presented itself at the hospital. She then pioneered the first cardiac clinic at Lady Hardinge.

Now, Padmathi still sees patients 12 hours a day for five days a week and hopes to expand the NHI of India further. MIMS

Read more:
Women in science: Tackling an alternative to chemotherapy, an opioid crisis and gene editing
5 doctors who had an immeasurable impact on the medical world
3 doctors with great contributions to the advancement of medicine

Sources:
http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/dr-sivaramakrishna-padmavati-meet-indias-first-oldest-woman-heart-specialist/articleshow/20833522.cms
https://yourstory.com/2016/11/women-of-indian-medicine/
http://time.com/4707899/victims-of-fgm-see-new-hope-in-life-changing-surgery/
https://www.statnews.com/2017/04/06/crispr-pig-organs-transplant-luhan-yang/