An initiative led by the United Nations, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science promotes full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. This represents a timely opportunity for us to recognise the role of two women who are leading the way in spinal cord injury research, making great strides in patient outcomes and progress towards a cure.
Driven by a shared passion for scientific discovery and a dedication to enhancing the lives of individuals with spinal cord injuries, Professor Jane Butler and Dr Claire Boswell-Ruys have been scientific collaborators for over two decades. A critical element of their research at the Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) is Project Spark and investigating the effectiveness of neurostimulation.
Claire Boswell-Ruys: “Jane and I started working together almost 20 years ago. I was a physiotherapist in the spinal cord injuries unit at Prince of Wales Hospital. I had a patient who had problems breathing, and Jane suggested some emerging research ideas to help him. That marked the beginning of our relationship and within six months I joined her at NeuRA.
What motivates me is knowing the impact a small change can have on somebody’s life. Many people with a spinal cord injury go from being able to do anything by themselves to depending on others for everything. If we can return just a little bit of function, it will change their life dramatically.”
Jane Butler: “When I first met Claire, I had just learned about the use of functional electrical stimulation for people with paralysed muscles. Claire worked with me on a project where we developed a new way to stimulate cough in people who have a spinal cord injury. Due to paralysed abdominal muscles, people with high level spinal cord injury can’t cough, which can lead to pneumonia. It might seem small, but enabling someone to cough can transform their wellbeing.
It’s not an easy job. You have to work hard and progress in research can be slow. But we have kindness for each other as well as respect for each other’s opinions and ideas. And ultimately, we are helping people. That makes it all worth it.”
Let’s recognise the often unseen barriers that women in science have broken and continue to support gender equality in this field. Join us in celebrating Jane and Claire, along with women and girls around the world who are leading innovation to make sure it becomes not a story about exceptional women, but a norm that girls belong and succeed in science.
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