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.

Malaysian-born cancer researcher and education advocate

Hailing from Penang, Dr Chern Ein Oon, an amiable and loquacious 33-year-old has been multiply lauded and awarded for her cancer research that seeks an alternative treatment to chemotherapy.

Upon graduating from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in molecular biology, Chern pursued a doctorate in oncology at the University of Oxford. She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden before returning to Malaysia.

Her most recent achievements include winning the L'Oreal-Unesco for Women in Science National Fellowship research grant -worth more than USD7,500 for her research that centres around starving cancerous tumours.

Her approach targets a particular molecule called sirtuin, allowing side effects of chemotherapy to be avoided and healthy cells to be preserved. Although in early stages of testing on mice, Chern hopes that her research will be successful enough to move to clinical trials within five years.

Chern also advocates for science education for children and cancer education for the public. She constantly works to dispel myths that cancer is superstition or a form of black magic and collaborates with the Penang Education Council to run workshops for under-privileged children, providing support for them to pursue science.

Baltimore health commissioner battling the opioid crisis

Daughter of Chinese dissidents, Dr Leana Wen, a 33-year-old health commissioner in Baltimore, grew up in the inner-city of Los Angeles, where she witnessed the effect of gun violence and drug addiction regularly. At the age of 18, she had graduated summa cum laude from California State University.

She then pursued medical school and residency under a Rhodes Scholarship and now works as a professor and emergency room physician at George Washington University hospital. In parallel, Wen had created a name for herself as a patient advocate by giving several TED talks and authoring a book, "When Doctors Don't Listen".

Her most recent achievement is unravelling Baltimore's opioid crisis.

Wen's view is seemingly different. She argues that substance abuse and addiction are due to inter-related problems -poverty, health disparities, mental health, unemployment, lack of housing - that the city has faced for years.

Pouring "all the hours" into her job, Dr Wen implemented a three-pillar approach, changing the way the city responds to clusters of overdose calls. She created easier access for families and friends of drug users to nalaxone, the overdose reversal drug and set up an overdose prevention campaign,, educating the public on how the drug should be used and doctors on better ways to prescribe pain medications to prevent addiction.

A 24/7 phone hotline for anything related to substance use has also been set up and she is working towards opening a centre to provide 24/7 treatment.

Moving forward, she hopes to continue tackling the opioid crisis, improving her approach accordingly.

The pioneer of CRISPR, revolutionising gene editing and research

Growing up in Hilo, a quieter area of Hawaii, Jennifer A. Doudna often felt out of place - she has blond hair and blue eyes, and towered over other kids, mostly of Polynesian and Asian descent. Her isolation made her develop an affinity towards books and pushed her into the realm of science.

She then pursued biochemistry at Pomona College in California, before attending Harvard for graduate school. But despite earning her doctoral degree by engineering a catalytic RNA that could self-replicate, Doudna could not visualise the catalytic RNA.

So she tried to determine the three-dimensional atomic structure of RNA using X-ray diffraction, and succeeded - with no formal training beforehand - her first breakthrough.

Then five years ago, Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, pioneered a shortcut for gene editing - CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technique - with Emmanuelle Charpentier, turning them into celebrities in the scientific community, showered with numerous accolades.

The technique has been widely used in laboratory studies, creating new possibilities for many researches that may treat or cure diseases. But some scientists fear the prospect of a dystopian future where scientists create an elite population of designer babies with enhanced intelligence, beauty and other traits.

Fortunately Doudna has been fighting to prevent this ethical line from being crossed. She is also fighting for the intellectual property rights to the genome editing technique as the first sweeping patents were granted to Feng Zhang, a scientist at the Broad Institute and MIT instead.

Now, 53-year-old Doudna is trying to collaborate with companies, governments and universities to write new guidelines for using the technique. MIMS

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