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Celebrating women in immunology

International Women’s Day 2018 takes place on Thursday 8 March. This annual event celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. To mark this day, the BSI is recognising the achievements of some of the brilliant female immunologists we have working in the discipline. We're inviting members to get involved and submit their nominations for female immunologists who they admire. This could be someone who has made a seminal breakthrough, a mentor who has supported your career, a colleague whose work you admire, a technician who is essential to smooth running of your lab or a student who has worked hard to complete a project – really just someone who you think immunology is privileged to have working in the discipline. 

To launch the project, we have asked some of our Trustees and members to put forward some suggestions of inspirational women working in immunology past and present.

Professor Brigitte ‘Ita’ Askonas

1923 - 2013, Head of the Immunology Division at the National Institute for Medical Research

Nominated by Peter Openshaw, BSI President and Professor of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College London

“Ita was a leading figure in immunology for decades, both through her position as Head of Immunology at Mill Hill and for her work on macrophages, prior to her seminal work on T cells. She helped establish many of the techniques that elucidated the mechanisms by which the immune system responds to infection, leaving an immense legacy by giving her time generously to many aspiring young immunologists. She trained and mentored a whole generation of scientists, many of whom became eminent leaders around the world.”


Professor Kathryn Else

Professor of Immunology at The University of Manchester

Nominated by Sheena Cruickshank, BSI Public Engagement Secretary & Professor of Public Engagement & Biomedical Sciences,The University of Manchester

“Kathryn is both an outstanding scientist but also an inspirational and encouraging mentor who has supported and nurtured many fledgling immunologists over the years, including me! Her work is focused on the immunology of parasite infection and understanding, amongst other things, the role of macrophages in host immunity and repair. She has supported countless students and staff members and is valued colleague and friend to many.”


Professor Polly Matzinger

Section Head at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, USA

Nominated by Matthias Eberl, BSI Trustee and Reader in Immunology at Cardiff University

“I still remember listening to Polly give a rather unconventional but powerful talk in the Royal Hall in Harrogate almost 20 years ago, with no slides and no gimmicks. Deeply inspiring and motivating for a junior postdoc attending his first BSI Congress where she stood out immediately as a clear and unique visionary with a simple but elegant and catchy message, someone who made people think and question existing dogmas – a message that guided the course of my own scientific journey.”


Dr Georgia Perona-Wright

Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow

Nominated by Simon Milling, BSI Trustee and Professor of Immunology at University of Glasgow

“Georgia Perona-Wright's innovative work has helped us understand how cytokines control the immune response, including during co-infections. She is building an exciting research programme and we’re pleased that she recently moved to the University of Glasgow from a tenure-track position at the University of British Columbia to take this work forward.”



Dr Joyce Baird

1929 – 2014

Senior Lecturer & Consultant Physician, Western General Hospital

Nominated by Anne Cooke, BSI Chair of Forum and Emeritus Professor at University of Cambridge

“Joyce Baird was an inspirational figure and a visionary clinical scientist who got me interested in the study of type 1 diabetes. She was smart and clever and a phenomenal mentor with a great sense of humour.  She was a mother and a dedicated clinician who cared about her diabetic patients and who introduced the BB rat model of diabetes to the UK to aid insight into the aetiology of type 1 diabetes .”


Professor Anne O'Garra

Associate Research Director, Francis Crick Institute

Nominated by Dr Edith M Hessel, VP and Head RRI Discovery Performance Unit at GSK and BSI Trustee 

“Anne O’Garra is an example of scientific excellence, showing real life-long commitment to immunology at the highest level. She has extraordinary in-depth knowledge of the subject and is tireless in her support for others in the discipline and as a mentor.”



Professor Faith Osier

Chair of Bioscience, KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme

Nominated by Megan Macleod, Lecturer in Immunology at University of Glasgow

“Faith Osier has made important contributions to malaria elimination through her work on vaccine development. She has won numerous awards in the last few years, and has been appointed a visiting Professor at the University of Oxford and Vice-President of the International Union of Immunological Societies. She is a 2018 TED Fellow.”

Photo credit: Flora Mutere-Okuku


Professor Helen Chapel

Clinical Immunologist, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford 

Nominated by Sofia Grigoriadou, BSI Trustee and Consultant Immunologist, Barts NHS Health Trust

"Helen was one of the pioneers in clinical immunology in UK, gaining her position as clinical immunologist in Oxford in 1978. She put clinical immunology in UK on the world map, and contributed to clinical research and international collaboration with well-established international leaders in the field. Her main area of research is in CVID (common variable immunodeficiency) and antibody deficiency which resulted in better understanding of this rare group of disorders. She achieved this despite the very 'tough' environment for women in those days and while bringing up a family. She has always been a very good mentor for me and many other colleagues in UK and always has a wise good suggestion to make when asked!"



Professor Deborah Doniach

1912 – 2004, Professor of Clinical Immunology

Nominated by Danny Altmann, Editor in Chief of Immunology and Professor of Immunology, Imperial College London

“It is from Deborah Doniach that we really gained our earliest understanding that some pathologies may be autoimmune in aetiology, mediated not by infection, but by antibodies to self antigens, in this case, thyroid antigens. This was a revelation in the late 1950s, and it marks the origin from which the field of autoimmunity emerged.”




Professor Johanna Westerdijk

1883 – 1961, Professor at Utrecht University

Nominated by Leonie Taams, Editor-in-Chief, Clinical & Experimental Immunology and Professor of Immune Regulation & Inflammation, King's College London

"Johanna Westerdijk was a pioneer, becoming the first female professor in the Netherlands in 1917 at my alma mater, Utrecht University. In a time when there were few women in science, she excelled in her field of plant pathology, discovering that Dutch elm disease was caused by a fungus.  She supervised 56 PhD students, almost half of them women. Johanna Westerdijk was known as someone who was welcoming, musical and who liked a party, but also as an excellent teacher, research leader and organiser. I love her motto: 'Working and partying create beautiful minds'."

You can send us your suggestions to or via social media on our TwitterFacebookLinkedIn or Instagram accounts. Please use the hashtags #WomenInImmunology and #IWD2018 when posting on social media.