Women in medicine: Joanna Wardlaw and Marie Curie

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The Women in medicine project showcases a number of today’s leading female clinicians and the women from the history of medicine who have inspired them.

Professor Joanna Wardlaw is an international expert in brain blood vessel diseases and brain imaging. Her research focuses on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of stroke, as well as learning more about the causes of different types of stroke. She is professor of applied neuroimaging at the University of Edinburgh, and honorary consultant neuroradiologist with NHS Lothian.

Joanna Marguerite Wardlaw completed her medical training in Edinburgh, the city where she established the Scottish Funding Council’s Brain Imaging Research Centre in 1997. Her groundbreaking studies have changed how patients with stroke are treated all over the world.

Professor Wardlaw is the author of over 400 publications and recipient of numerous honours, including the University of Edinburgh chancellor’s award for research and the British Society of Neuroradiologists president’s medal. She is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, European Stroke Organisation and Royal Society of Edinburgh. She was awarded a CBE in 2016.

Marie Curie was a supremely intelligent, motivated, hard-working, yet humble scientist, whose groundbreaking scientific discoveries transformed medicine with almost unbelievable speed. Less well recognised is her extensive humanitarian work and her considerable personal difficulties, such as raising two children alone after the sudden death of her husband.

Joanna Wardlaw on her inspiration Marie Curie

Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867–1934) was one of the greatest scientists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The first woman to win a Nobel Prize, she remains the only person ever to have won prizes in two scientific fields.

Born and brought up in Poland, Marie was barred from the exclusively male University of Warsaw. She moved to Paris in 1891, enrolling at the Sorbonne and successfully attaining a degree in physics in 1893, gaining a second degree in mathematics the following year, before moving into research.

Through her experiments with uranium, Marie Curie created the field of atomic physics, and coined the word ‘radioactivity’ to describe the new phenomena that she observed.

Working with her husband Pierre, she identified further radioactive elements, and the two were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903. Although stricken with grief at her husband’s death in 1906, Curie took on his teaching post, becoming the first female professor at the Sorbonne. A Nobel Prize for chemistry followed in 1911.

During the First World War, Curie devoted her energies to promoting the use of portable X-ray machines. Her efforts saw the devices become known as ‘little Curies’.

Marie’s many years of work with radioactive materials would finally take their toll on her health. Her death was ascribed to aplastic anaemia, probably caused by extensive exposure to radiation.

Today, Marie Curie is remembered as the woman whose discoveries changed science forever, and led directly to new therapeutic and diagnostic methods in medicine.