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The artwork Pioneres, presented on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is almost 40 metres long and portrays nine women, from Ancient Greece to the present day, who have contributed to the progress of sciences in the field of health.
Coinciding with 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus unveils today the mural Pioneres (Pioneers), an action promoted by the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation in conjunction with the biotech pharmaceutical company Amgen, aligned with the Vall d’Hebron and ICS Arts in Health policy.
The mural aims to humanise the Vall d’Hebron Campus setting through art, raising the visibility of nine women who, from Ancient Greece to the modern day, have contributed to progress in health sciences. Measuring nearly 40 metres in length with an area of 160 square metres, the mural is the work of the Barcelona artist Meteo Lara “Ma’La”, who has been painting it from 31 January up to today, finishing it with the help of a group of professionals and patients from Vall d’Hebron, to coincide with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The mural is striking for the rich expressiveness of the nine faces, full of reflections, light and textures, a style that, in the artist’s words, “serves to emphasis the humanity and connection between these nine pioneers and the spectator”. As Dr Albert Salazar, manager of Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, explains, this mural “helps to humanise the Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus through art, raising the visibility of women who have marked a turning point in health sciences and shattered many stereotypes that still exist today”.
“Although much progress has been made in recent years, less than 30% of scientific researchers in the world are women”, explains Fina Lladós, CEO of Amgen in Spain. “This is why we have been so involved in this mural: not just to highlight those who paved the way, but also to encourage girls to join in the adventure of health sciences”.
“We want this to be a homage on two levels”, explains Dr Anna Santamaria, the head of the Vall d’Hebron Women in Science programme: “A homage to women as a fundamental element at the heart of caring, especially on 11 February, and a homage to female excellence which is not just forgotten but often deliberately hidden throughout history”. According to Dr Anna Santamaria, the mural also reflects the Campus commitment “to excellence and acknowledging these female scientists”.
Pioneers - The nine women who forged a path in health science featured in the mural
Metrodora (200 – ?) (date of death unknown)
Greek physician and author of the oldest medical text known to have been written by a woman. Her treatise Diseases and Cures of Women covers areas of gynaecology at a time when the study of women’s health focussed only on childbirth. Widely referred to by Greek and Roman physicians, her treatise was translated into Latin and published in medieval Europe.
Trota of Salerna (1100 – 1160)
A mediaeval Italian physician capable of treating cancer, eye diseases and skin conditions, while specialising in gynaecology and obstetrics. Her work Passionibus Mulierum Curandorum (The Diseases of Women), a key text in European universities up to the 16th century, dangerously challenged religious stereotypes and buried the myths that women’s diseases were due to menstruation and that infertility was just a female problem.
Anna Morandi Manzolini (1716 – 1774)
Thanks to her talent at making detailed wax figures reproducing human anatomy, this Italian woman received a special permit to teach anatomy at the University of Bologna, in place of her husband, holder of the professorship. She was an expert in the skeletal system, male and female reproductive anatomy and sensory organs.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909 – 2012)
Italian neurologist and senator who, working with snake venom, tumours and rat saliva, discovered nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein that regulates nerve growth and keeps neurons healthy. She received the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine for her work, sharing it with the American biochemist on her team, Stanley Cohen.
Gertrude Belle Elion (1918 – 1999)
American biochemist and pharmacologist and one of the founders of immunotherapy. She is recognised for her discovery of Purinethol, the first medical treatment essential for the treatment of leukaemia. During her career, she developed a total of 45 treatments that help the immune system fight cancer. She received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1988.
Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958)
English Chemist and crystallographer who, using diffracted X-rays, discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Her research, littered with obstacles and given little recognition, was essential to determining Watson and Crick’s DNA double helix model in 1953. She also studied the molecular structure of viruses, such as the poliovirus.
Margarita Salas (1930 – 2019)
Disciple of Severo Ochoa (1959 Nobel Prize for Medicine), her research on the bacillus virus Phi29 helped provide an understanding of how DNA functions, how its instructions are transformed into proteins and how these relate to one another. This finding facilitates the quick, simple and reliable amplification of DNA and has applications in oncology, forensic medicine and archaeology, among other disciplines.
Linda H. Aiken (1943)
Nurse and researcher from the United States, whose research focusses on determinants of variation in health services (i.e. hospitals, rehabilitation centres, etc.) on patient outcomes, the impact of culture and organisational work environments of healthcare organisations, comparative international health outcomes research, and outcome evaluations of healthcare policies and programmes.
You could be one of them
The last figure in the mural represents a currently anonymous researcher such as those who work at Vall d’Hebron. With this figure, we emphasise the young female scientific talent of the present and also the future of women in health sciences research in our country.
Mateo Lara, “Ma’La”, urban artist
Mateo Lara, aka “Ma’La” (Barcelona, 1977), is an independent multidisciplinary creative artist and muralist with extensive training and over 25 years’ experience in industrial and graphic design, digital animation, multimedia design and plastic arts.
Since 2004, he has been complementing his studio and design work with the production of commissioned mural paintings through Pintura Mural Barcelona, with art actions in several countries including Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as various exhibitions in the United States. His mural paintings, which he combines with a passion for graffiti, are noted for their extraordinarily expressive quality and realism.
Campus Vall d’Hebron, an institution committed to gender equality
The Women in Science programme coordinated by DrAnna Santamaria, started by Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus, and later joined by the Lleida Biomedical Research Institute Dr Pifarré Foundation, seeks to promote female leadership in science and healthcare and extend parity among decision-making bodies. It aims to contribute to implementing the principles of Human Resources Strategy for Researchers related to issues of gender equality. Women in Science is structured into four key areas: an equality-based labour model, female empowerment and leadership, outreach (visibility for women in and outside the Campus) and the value of alliances. The initiative stems from the Campus’s firm commitment to placing women at its heart.
Vall d’Hebron is committed to gender equality in all areas of activity which is why it strengthens female leadership. 72% of the 9,000 professionals who work at Vall d’Hebron University Hospital are women. Furthermore, women hold over 60% of management positions. With regard to the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), 72% of staff are women, as well as 48% of the principal investigators and 76% of researchers and research support staff.
The Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) has taken part six times in the “Science by Women” programme, promoted by the Women for Africa Foundation (FMxA). This foundation aims to contribute to empowering women as key figures in the development of the African continent. The VHIR takes in candidates who for six months conduct a research project in some of their research groups, which they will later implement in their countries of origin to the benefit of the community.
Amgen is committed to maximising the potential of biology for patients suffering from severe diseases, discovering, developing, manufacturing and providing innovative human therapies. This approach starts with the use of tools such as advanced human genetics to discover the complexities of the disease and understand the fundamentals of human biology.
Amgen focusses on areas of major uncovered medical needs and makes full use of its experience in manufacturing biological products to obtain solutions to improve healthcare outcomes and also considerably improve people’s lives.
Pioneers in biotechnology since 1980, Amgen have become the largest independent biotech company in the world and has developed a portfolio of innovative medicinal products, reaching millions of patients worldwide.
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