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Meet the Norwich women behind the real-world application of science

11 February 2023

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To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we look at the science-based roles women at Norwich Research Park are fulfilling in business and in health.

Michelle Frost, NNUH 

Michelle Frost works as a specialist biomedical scientist at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital (NNUH). She is behind the anti-spiking campaign that was launched last year across Norfolk.

The spiking of drinks is believed to have become more prevalent and the campaign aims to highlight that it is a criminal offence to spike drinks or inject someone without their knowledge or consent, and to gather data on what substances are being used.

The high-profile campaign has seen Michelle and the NNUH Biomedical Science lab team join forces with the police, the SOS Wellbeing Bus and selected clubs and bars to offer anti-spiking kits to anyone who thinks they, or a friend, has been spiked. The results are submitted to the NNUH lab for full toxicology screening for in excess of 1,600 substances.

Michelle said: “Since the implementation of the campaign, reports of incidents have dropped. This is great for public reassurance and it may mean those performing the acts of spiking have been deterred.

“We are also gathering some really important data of the substances being used.”

To find out more information about spiking, go to www.antispiking.org. Main image by Keiron Tovell.

 

Natassja Bush, MD of Inspiralis

 

Inspiralis is a company formed as a spin-out from the John Innes Centre. It produces enzymes called DNA topoisomerases, which are drug targets (enzymes or processes in a cell that are stopped by medicines) used in anti-cancer and anti-microbial therapy.

These are supplied as kits to academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies and biotech firms around the world developing new antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs.

Before becoming MD, Natassja studied biomedical science, zoology and ecology in South Africa before moving to the UK to do her Masters in biotechnology at UEA, where she learned about DNA topoisomerases, which led her to do her PhD on them.

She said: “It is really important that we encourage and support more girls in education to think about the sciences as subjects to study, as they really do offer so many avenues to pursue whether in academia or business.

“Alongside the efforts to get more girls engaged in the sciences, we need to support women already pursuing careers in science. At each stage of a scientific career, we see fewer and fewer women occupying roles, and ultimately very few occupying senior roles.

“To stop this high attrition rate, women need visible role models that they can identify with, as well as help and encouragement to get back into science after career breaks.”

 

Vicky Foster, head of the British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO)

The main aim of the BBRO, which is based at Norwich Research Park, is to provide UK sugar beet growers and the wider industry with the resources required to grow a healthy and profitable sugar beet crop.

These resources include research, news feeds, events and publications. Vicky’s priority is to ensure practical science drives positive change on farms that will improve the production and health of sugar beet.

Her career in the science of agriculture was firmly cemented while doing a PhD in cereal pathology at Rothamsted Research.

Vicky said: “We need more scientists and women are currently underrepresented in this sector. Agriculture and science are going to need more support over the next few decades, so I’d encourage girls in education to consider science subjects.

“There needs to be more support for them as they develop their academic commitments and career paths, as I think they will be able to bring different perspectives to the work that is needed to be done.”

 

Roz Bird, CEO of Anglia Innovation Partnership

“It’s really important that we encourage girls and women to seriously consider a career in science, as it can open the doors to a myriad of opportunities, many of which relate to issues that are critical to our well-being be that in the areas of food, health or climate change,” said Roz Bird, CEO, of Anglia Innovation Partnership.

“Natassja, Vicky and Michelle have shown you can achieve great things with a background in science. At Norwich Research Park we pride ourselves on creating a community where anyone can be successful regardless of their background, gender or ethnicity.

“Research shows that working environments that are fit for the 21st Century in terms of reflecting the diversity of humankind are more successful as they can attract and retain the best. Having more women who want to work in science will certainly help us to achieve this.”

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