WISKidney Research UK, the charity dedicated to research into kidney disease, has this week put the spotlight on recommendations aimed at ensuring equal opportunities for female scientists. Amongst the suggested measures for how to create and assist the next generation of researchers focused on kidney disease, the Strategy recommends flexible support for researchers taking career breaks in order that those returning to work can continue to contribute to the innovation agenda in the UK.

In the light of the UN’s International Day for Women and Girls in Science on 11 February, Kidney Research UK is celebrating the female researchers it funds and their achievements in tackling kidney disease, as well as drawing attention to the challenging circumstances that some will have faced as they developed their careers.

Whilst 65% of early career researchers in biomedical sciences are female, a huge drop off rate is reported when looking at progression to professor level with less than one in five biomedical professor positions across the research sector currently held by women.

According to a recent report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HEFA) exploring levels of academic staff in higher education in 2015- 2016, less than a quarter (24%) of all academic professors in the UK are female, demonstrating the need for greater support for women across wider academia, not purely within the field of research.

Kidney Research UK reports a balanced 50/50 split of male and female researchers leading the projects it currently funds to find treatments and cures for kidney disease. This is a significant increase in the last decade, with only 5% of the charity’s grants being awarded to female researchers in 2006.

“The research funded by Kidney Research is chosen entirely on the basis of scientific merit,” said Sandra Currie, chief executive of Kidney Research UK. “The fact that the proportion of female researchers that we fund has increased ten-fold in the last decade is a great sign for women in science. The UK Renal Research Strategy has identified hurdles that have to be overcome for such talent to flourish. We are very proud of all of our researchers who are helping us find ways to treat, alleviate and hopefully, one day, cure kidney disease. The fact that so many of them are women, and that they may have had added obstacles to get over in their career paths makes their achievements even greater.

“Together with two of our medical trustees, Professor Fiona Karet and Ms Lorna Marson, we are currently exploring ways we can provide additional career development support to improve the retention of this talent in the renal sector.”

Kidney Research UK is keen to share information about a selection of these inspirational women, from all across the UK, leading the way in trail blazing research projects:

RachelRachel Floyd studied Biochemistry at university, before achieving a PhD from the University of Liverpool in cellular and molecular physiology, where she graduated in 2005. At Kidney Research UK, Rachel works on the ‘bench to bedside approach’ – her research in the lab can be used directly to change the way people are treated and diagnosed. She also works on the personalised medicine approach, looking at somebody’s individual profile and undertaking research into tailored treatment options. She has secured a fellowship from Kidney Research UK, establishing a research group in her own area of renal research. Rachel is a passionate and articulate lady who is dedicated to ensuring her research leads to real results and patient benefit.

ClaireNephrologist Dr Claire Sharpe is a Reader in Renal Medicine and an Honorary Consultant Nephrologist at King’s College London and King’s College Hospital. She divides her time equally between her research, teaching work, and clinical work with renal patients – including those with kidney damage caused by sickle cell disease. Her research studies are significantly advancing our understanding of the development of renal fibrosis the main underlying cause of kidney failure. Dr Sharpe hopes this ongoing work will eventually lead to the development of new anti-fibrotic drugs which could make Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) a treatable condition, resulting in fewer patients needing to depend on dialysis to survive. Kidney Research UK has played a pivotal role in the career of the mother of three; by initially awarding her a Clinical Training Fellowship in 1999 and by funding three of her research projects, allowing her the flexibility to focus on her young family, proving that women can be both pioneers at the top of their field whilst having a family.

MorganDr Morag Mansley PhD is forging a successful career in the field of renal research. She was awarded a Kidney Research UK-funded non-clinical fellowship at The University of Edinburgh, where her work focuses on hypertension and identifying genetic signals used by steroid hormones to promote salt and water retention in the kidney. Not only has Kidney Research UK funded Morag’s post, it has also created valuable opportunities for patients, clinicians and scientists to meet one another and discuss the ways they can work together towards the end goal of tackling kidney disease.