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Women in cancer research


Gender inequality in science is a real issue, and without frank and open discussions leading to positive action it is likely to remain so. In February 2019, Nature Reviews Cancer was kindly invited to be part of a ‘Women in Science Mentoring’ panel discussion, which took place at the Lorne Cancer Conference in Victoria, Australia. Inspired by the scientific career paths and experiences of the women on the panel, we decided to share their stories with our readers in this Viewpoint article, along with their opinions on how men and women must equally take responsibility for supporting and empowering female scientists. To this end, we hope we might contribute in some small way to highlighting a few of the issues surrounding gender bias in cancer research, as well as science more generally, and show our commitment to ensuring gender diversity within the journal.

The contributors

Christina A. Mitchell is a Sir John Monash distinguished Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at Monash University. Her research area is the mechanisms of inhibition of PI3K signalling in cancer and developmental disease. Her group has identified and characterized several members of the inositol polyphosphate 5-phosphatases and identified a role for a family member as a putative tumour suppressor in breast cancer.

Martine F. Roussel is the Endowed Chair of Molecular Oncology, Co-director of the Cancer Biology Cancer Center Program and Member of the Department of Tumor Cell Biology at St. Jude Children‘s Research Hospital. She is a molecular oncologist recognized for landmark studies on the aetiology of cancer and for translational development of strategies for the treatment of paediatric medulloblastoma. She identified several of the earliest recognized retroviral oncogenes, and elucidated their physiological functions in signal transduction, regulation of gene expression, cell cycle dynamics and organismal development. She joined the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, as a Fogarty International postdoctoral fellow in 1980 and the faculty of St. Jude Children‘s Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee in 1983, where she has remained until the present day. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Roussel‘s laboratory is currently interested in the development and treatment of paediatric medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumour of childhood.

Leonie Walsh is a leader and adviser in technological innovation with a background that spans more than 30 years of experience both locally and internationally across a diverse range of industries. She draws from this experience to support government, academia and businesses on strategic science and technology issues including innovation efficiency, technology commercialization and the future skilled workforce through a range of related boards, advisory and advocacy activities. She has been active in supporting Blood Cancer research and support services for several decades with roles including President and Chair of the Fight Cancer Foundation and non-executive Director of the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Register. She is also a strong advocate for attracting more women into science, engineering and technology, and was recently named the inaugural Ambassador for Women in STEMM Australia.

Ashani T. Weeraratna is the E.V. McCollum Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Cancer Biology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her primary research focus is on melanoma and how changes in the tumour microenvironment spur metastasis and therapy resistance. She is specifically interested in how age-related changes drive the progression of cancer and impact multiple aspects of tumour progression.

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C.A.M. acknowledges helpful discussions and suggestions from S. Pickering, J. Carroll, M. Davies, M. McGrath and L. Ooms. M.F.R. thanks J. Stripay and C.J. Sherr for helpful suggestions. A.T.W. thanks husband P.J. Morin, a staunch feminist and ardent supporter, for proofreading this article, and for all he does to support her career and their family.

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Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Christina A. Mitchell or Martine F. Roussel or Leonie Walsh or Ashani T. Weeraratna.

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Competing interests

C.A.M.’s research laboratory is funded by research grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Australian Research Council and the Cancer Council of Victoria. C.A.M. has no other financial or non-financial competing interests. M.F.R declares no competing interests. L.W. has an informal relationship with a not-for-profit organization, Women in STEMM Australia, including a role as Ambassador from 2016 to 2018. A.T.W. declares no competing interests.

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Mitchell, C.A., Roussel, M.F., Walsh, L. et al. Women in cancer research. Nat Rev Cancer 19, 547–552 (2019).

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