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A word for the women

By Hayley Leake Great minds 08 Jul 2016

The path of pain science has been paved by many notable figures – Patrick Wall, Ron Melzack, Rene Descartes, Max Von Frey, the list goes on. As these names spring to mind, a palpable absence becomes apparent. Where are all the ladies!? A gender gap in scientific contributions still remains today. Some suggest that science may be built on the shoulders of women performing experiments while men take authorship roles. Perhaps Nettie Stevens, the so called ‘lab-technician’ who discovered the chromosomal basis of sex (i.e. XX, XY), would agree. So today, we would like to take pause to acknowledge some of the fabulous ladies who have laid stones on the pain science road we are now travelling down. 

Denise Albe-Fessard  

This stylish French neuroscientist carried out fundamental neurophysiological work on the organisation of central nociceptive pathways, clarifying the distinction between lateral and medial thalamic pain processing. She was also the very first president of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP).


Huda Akil

A Syrian born scientist, Huda and her team looked at the role of endorphins and their receptors in pain and stress responsiveness. After suggesting the presence of endogenous, analgesic substance, they provided the first physiological evidence for a role of endogenous opioids in the brain, and showed that endorphins are activated by stress and cause pain inhibition. So we can give her some thanks for finding the drug cabinet in the brain!


Candace Pert

While we’re on the happy topic of opioids, lets give a shout out to Candace – the American neuroscientist who discovered the opiate receptor. This is where the body’s ‘bliss-makers’ bond with cells to weave their magic – sure sounds like a SIM!


Rita levi-montalcini

An Italian rounds up this group of internationally celebrated women. This incredible lady, who lived to the age of 103 is remembered for her discovery of nerve growth factor. Some tricky science with mouse tumor cells and chick embryos confirmed there was something that could promote nerve growth. With her colleague, Stanley Cohen, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in1986.



If you want to continue appreciating the science ladies check out Mary Broadfoot Walker, Rosalind Franklin, Elspeth McLachlan, Elizabeth Crosby and Augusta Marie Klimpke.  Even better, share with us any  women you think deserve a shout out!


– Hayley Leake


  1. Hi Hayley, my contribution would be Prof. Dr. Dr.Herta Flor, Scientific Director of the institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience ,Mannheim university
    Her ground breaking research was into Cortical plasticity and it’s relevance to chronic pain, the roll of learning and memory, the interaction of body image, implicit learning and brain changes that occur in chronic pain.
    This work underpins a lot of the treatment methods developed by NOI.

    1. Hey Libby,

      Of course! What an integral women in our world. She made some wonderful moves forward in the game of neuroplasticity and cortical remapping. Thanks for the contribution!


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