Meet 15 influential women in the fields of health and science

Many know that, for a long time, the contribution of women in the areas of health and science was vetoed, so that these areas had been dominated by men. However, it is also known that many women have not stopped chasing their dreams and, thus, have conquered space in these areas.

Recent research makes it evident that the field of medicine is increasingly taken by women, but this is not the case today.

Regarding health care, women have always been present, whether taking care of sick people in their homes, or making teas and potions with healing properties, the work of former herbalists.

It turns out that, during the Middle Ages, the study of medicine was available only to men and, with the Renaissance, women who took care of patients at home could no longer do it, since, now, patients should be cared for only by those trained in educational institutions, who would use the scientific method and technologies of the time to take care of the sick.

All of this triggered an illegal practice of nursing and care for the sick by women who were interested in the medical field. Legally, women could only be midwives, who helped other women when giving birth, but even that was taken from them when some men came together to prove that they could do the same job, but with better instrumentalization and scientific understanding.

During wars, however, the need for women’s work became greater, as male workers were on the battlefield and, in addition, the demand for nurses to care for wounded soldiers grew. It was then that, during the Crimean War (1853-1856), Florence Nightingale reorganized the army’s hospital nursing, opening the doors of medicine, again, for women.

That is why today, on March 8, we pay tribute to the great warriors who fought for the improvement of the health area and opening up opportunities for women. Learn more about some of them:


Florence Nightingale (1820-1910): Included hygiene routines in nursing

As stated earlier, Nightingale reorganized the way nursing is done in military hospitals at the time, because he believed that infections would occur in dirty and poorly maintained places. With that, when he arrived at the Scutari hospital in Turkey, he asked for reinforcements from another 80 nurses and 300 brushes for cleaning the place.

Nightingale instituted hygiene as a fundamental thing in nursing, and created a training school where he taught several nurses to follow its principles.

Marie Curie (1867-1934): Researched radioactivity

Known for being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, a fact that was repeated once again, Marie Curie studied, together with her husband Pierre Curie, the radioactivity of X-rays.

Although she was more interested in the field of physics, Curie’s studies were important for medicine since radioactivity would later be used to treat tumors.

Gerty Cori (1869-1957): Described the Cori Cycle

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1947, Gerty Cori was instrumental in understanding the metabolism of the human body.

This is because, in 1929, Gerty and Carl Cori described that when the muscle is flexed, there is production of lactic acid, converted into glycogen in the liver. This glycogen is converted into glucose, which is absorbed back into the muscles, a process that is now known as the Cori Cycle.

This study is important for understanding the energy source during muscle activity.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1966): Pioneer in studies and activism for birth control

Sanger was a sexologist nurse who pioneered birth studies, especially with regard to her control. He founded the world’s first family planning institution, called Planned Parenthood Federation of America , in 1916.

He was an activist in favor of developing the birth control pill, which, unfortunately, was only released when he was already old.

Letitia Mumford Geer (Unknown): Invented the syringe

In 1899, a nurse named Letitia Mumford Geer patented a device for applying substances with piston-based functioning.

Currently, this device is known as a syringe , which is used worldwide, every day.

Barbara McClintock (1902-1992): Described genetic transposition

American botany Barbara McClintock is, along with Mendel and Morgan, one of the pillars of genetics. This is because, during the 40s and 50s, he studied the hereditary characteristics of corn, such as the color of the grains.

Through this study, Barbara was able to prove that certain genetic elements can sometimes change positions on a chromosome, activating and deactivating neighboring genes. This process became known as genetic transposition, which can help in the stability of vectors in gene therapy. McClintock won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1983.

Gertrude B. Elion (1918-1999): Produced the first synthetic drugs

Gertrude Elion won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his achievements in the field of pharmacology.

The researcher revolutionized the health field by producing, together with George Hitchings, drugs based on knowledge of biochemistry and diseases, not just natural substances.

They produced leukemia drugs , which helped several children to survive even with the disease.

Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958): Led a research group on DNA

Rosalind Franklin was a British biophysicist, known as the ” mother of DNA “. Between 1951 and 1953, he led a group of research on DNA, together with his colleague Maurice Wilkins, and came close to unraveling its structure.

However, Wilkins’ colleagues, Crick and Watson, published a paper on the same subject before her. Only in 2010 was it proven that the work of the two scientists was based on the studies by Rosalind.

Mathilde Krim (1926-Present): Founded the first AIDS research organization

He received his Ph.D. in Biology in 1953 and, until 1959, studied cancer- causing viruses , in addition to participating in a group of researchers who developed a method for determining prenatal sex at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

During the first records of the disease that would later be known as AIDS , Krim had already realized the impact that such a condition would have on medicine and science.

Thus, he founded amfAR ( American Foundation for AIDS Research ), a non-profit organization that funds AIDS research, prevention methods, treatment, among others.

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (1942-Present): Described the development of the embryo

Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard is a German biologist who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discoveries about embryos.

His team, made up of Edward Lewis and Eric Wieschaus, researched the development of embryos of Drosophila melanogaster , a species of fly, and unraveled the process of how an egg was able to develop and form an embryo.

These findings could later help to explain congenital malformations in humans.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi (1947-Present): Discovered the AIDS virus

The French virologist received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus, popularly known as HIV .

In 1983, Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montaigner discovered a retrovirus in patients with swollen lymph glands that attacked lymphocytes, a leukocyte present in the blood that is extremely important for the immune system. It has also been proven that this is the virus that causes AIDS .

Youyou Tu (1930-Present): Helped create a new treatment for malaria

Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner Youyou Tu, along with Satoshi Omura and William C. Campbell, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her discoveries in a new treatment for malaria .

Youyou Tu was able to extract the active substance from Artemisia annua , a plant used for fever in traditional Chinese medicine, called artemisinin, which is able to inhibit the malaria parasite.

Zilda Arns Neumann (1934-2010): Founded the Pastoral da Criança

Zilda is the founder of Pastoral da Criança, which helped to reduce child mortality in Brazil.

It helped to spread the use of  homemade whey in the country (a simple solution of water, sugar and salt to prevent dehydration and diarrhea ), which contributed to the infant mortality rate falling from 62 deaths per thousand to 20 per thousand.

Adriana Melo: Presented evidence of the relationship between zika virus and microcephaly

In November 2015, doctor Adriana Melo, who takes care of high-risk pregnancies, presented evidence of the relationship between the Zika virus and microcephaly.

The doctor was intrigued when she saw patients having gestational problems related to malformation, and, at the same time, received a technical note from the State Secretariat of Pernambuco that warned of the increase in cases of microcephaly in babies of women who had red spots, symptom of Zika in the first months of pregnancy.

Melo pooled all his resources and sent samples of amniotic fluid from pregnant women suspected of having Zika to Fiocruz, which returned on November 17 announcing the presence of the dead Zika virus in the liquid.

Throughout history, several women have contributed to making more knowledge and practicality available for the good of the population.

The Healthy Minute congratulates all women for their achievements, not only as researchers and inventors in the health field, but also for all contributions to a better world.