To celebrate International Women’s Day 2014 we’re remembering Dr Rosalind Venetia Pitt-Rivers, a researcher at the MRC National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) who discovered a thyroid hormone which is now used as a treatment option for thyroid diseases. Isabel Baker takes a look at this striking photograph and a scientist who was dedicated to life at the bench, and who earned worldwide recognition for doing what she loved best.
Rosalind Pitt-Rivers at the NIMR in the 1960s
This photograph, taken in the 1960s, shows Rosalind ― better known to her family, friends and colleagues as ‘Ros’ ― at work in the NIMR labs where she worked for 30 years. She looks at ease in the lab, casually holding a test tube and cigarette between her fingers, as she regards the camera with a serious, confident gaze.
Ros arrived in the NIMR lab of Sir Charles Harington in 1942, which was to become a leading centre in the world for paper chromatography. Dr Archer Martin, who developed this technique for separating mixtures of substances in the 1940s, joined the NIMR in 1948*, winning the Nobel Prize in 1952. It was using these newly developed chromatography techniques that Ros discovered a new thyroid hormone, triiodothyronine (T3), with Dr Jack Gross, in 1952.
How are mice helping with hearing research? Professor Steve Brown, the Director of the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, carries out research investigating the genetic basis of deafness by changing specific genes in mice to find out their role in hearing. His work has led to the identification of a potential new treatment for glue ear in children. Here he describes the work of the MRC Mary Lyon Centre and shows us a hearing experiment in which an anaesthetised mouse is tested for its response to a particular tone.
[Video link for access.]
How can studying rare diseases help those with more common conditions? To mark Rare Disease Day, Ellen Charman speaks to Professor Geoff Woods about how his discovery in Pakistan of a disease in which people don’t feel pain could lead to treatments for those who experience too much.
Can you tell me about this condition, congenital analgesia?
I first came across the condition when I was in Pakistan researching encephalopathy (diseases of the brain) and I was asked to see a boy who reportedly did not feel any pain. He was doing street theatre to earn money — walking across hot coals and putting daggers in his arms, and then going to the local children’s hospital to get patched up. Sadly, before I got the chance to see him, he’d jumped from a roof to amuse friends and walked away from it, but later died from a bleed in the brain.
When I came back to the UK, I asked around and found two families also affected by the condition. At first, due to the common inclination towards risky and dangerous activities, I assumed that those with the condition had a degree of intellectual disability; however, I later found their development to be normal, but without the sense of pain to modulate their behaviour. Read more