Women’s History Month is coming to an end but celebrating women doesn’t have to.
One of the areas in which women are often overlooked is the medical field. Women of various backgrounds are the hidden figures behind many of the groundbreaking advancements seen in healthcare today. We pulled together a list crediting just a few of the incredible women who made history in the field of medicine and broke gender barriers with their achievements.
1. DR. GERTRUDE B. ELION
A Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Dr. Gertrude B. Elion was a biochemist and pharmacologist on a mission to alleviate people’s suffering from illnesses like cancer. Instead of using the “trial-and-error” method, Elion and partner Dr. George Hitchings used a revolutionary approach to creating medicine by studying the chemical composition of diseased cells. As a result of their new research process and the pursuit of her mission, Elion helped develop drugs to prevent kidney transplant rejection and treat many illnesses like leukemia and AIDS.
2. DR. ANN TSUKAMOTO
In 1991, Dr. Ann Tsukamoto was among the team of scientists who invented a process called “stem cell isolation,” the first method to isolate human blood-forming stem cells. Her breakthrough invention, and the resulting 12 U.S. patents, have led to life-saving cancer treatments.
3. DR. KIZZMEKIA S. CORBETT
One of the major contributions to the COVID pandemic was the COVID-19 vaccine. Viral immunologist Kizzmekia S. Corbett was behind the development and design of the mRNA-based Moderna COVID vaccine. Corbett now speaks to people to educate them about the science behind vaccines, reduce vaccine hesitancy, and bridge the gap between public awareness and vaccine science.
4. FLOSSIE WONG-STAAL
In 1985, Flossie Wong-Staal was one of the first scientists to clone the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This was a vital step in developing the virus’s genetic map and finding the correlation between HIV and AIDS and also helped paved the way for HIV blood tests. Her pioneering research built a foundation for understanding emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19.
5. ROSALIND FRANKLIN
In 1952, British Scientist Rosalind Franklin captured the first X-ray image of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Franklin’s X-ray allowed Francis Crick and James D. Watson identify DNA’s double helix molecular structure, a major discovery in structural virology.
6. LETITIA MUMFORD GEER
The syringe seen today in medical facilities and vaccination sites evolved from Letitia Mumford Geer’s invention of the one-handed syringe in 1896. Before Geer’s invention, two hands were necessary to utilize a syringe. Geer’s invention has transformed modern healthcare tools allowing syringes to be a quick, smooth, and relatively pain-free tool for patients and doctors to transfer medicine.
7. AVESTA RASTAN
At age 25, Avesta Rastan used her skills in biomedical communication design to create an infographic poster in 2020 showing how COVID-19 affects the body. Rastan wanted to help deliver digestible information about COVID-19 at a time when there was a lot of misinformation and uncertainty around the pandemic. Her poster unexpectedly went viral on social media and has since been translated into 18 languages. Avesta continues to live by the quote “science is not finished until it’s communicated” and now works in a global health company called Real Chemistry as a Multimedia Production Artist.
8. MARY BEATRICE DAVIDSON KENNER
Last but not least, Mary Kenner was a self-taught inventor best-known for inventing the sanitary belt patent in 1956, the precursor for modern menstrual pads. Kenner created a belt for sanitary napkins, when women were still using cloth pads and rags during their menstruation. Despite the challenges Mary Kenner faced when trying to patent her inventions, she obtained five patents during her lifetime.