Linda Griffith has had a research career that only a few can dream of. She is a Professor in Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), a world-renowned research institution. She has received numerous awards for her novel tissue engineering approaches, including being the first in the world to demonstrate a tissue-engineered cartilage in the shape of a human ear.
But as it often is with world-leading and talented scientists, some recognition in hindsight turns out to be career-defining. Receiving the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and a cash prize of USD 500,000 became career-defining for Linda as it led her to explore how she could deploy her engineering toolbox to solve issues related to women’s health.
“If you are a great engineer, your motivation is to solve major societal problems. One such problem is women’s health, which has been underserved and underfunded for years. Thus, the fellowship became a push to think about how I could utilize my research to the benefit of women across the world. Many talented researchers don’t get this opportunity as too few funding options are available,” says Linda Griffith.
Thus, considering her own experiences, she finds it essential to raise awareness around the need for more funding of basic research in the women’s health space. Even though the MIT professor sees slight positive changes in schemes offered by some of the larger funding agencies, including the National Institute for Health (NIH), the funding gap is still enormous.
“Even though we currently see incremental progress in funding, this doesn’t make up for decades of deficit and utter neglect. It is positive to see a lot of femtech companies gain more traction. Still, one must remember that they rely on something other than fundamental science. However, when pharma companies are developing drugs to treat a disease such as endometriosis, a robust scientific foundation is needed, explains Linda Griffith.
Dismissal has to come to an end
Specifically, endometriosis is a disease close to Linda’s heart, as she is one of the 190 million women worldwide who has suffered from the devastating symptoms that the disease causes, such as chronic pelvic pain, severe life-impacting period pain, pain during or after sex, blood in urine during a period, fatigue, and infertility.
In 2009, she switched from a traditional career path in biological engineering and spearheaded the MIT Center for Gynepathology establishment. Something that can best be labeled as a risky career move that many would shy away from making.
“Gynecology is poorly funded, but many unmet needs must be addressed. That’s where I could make a difference with my capabilities, but women’s health problems are often just dismissed, and this hinders fundamental structural changes that can lead to significant change,” states the MIT Professor.
The ‘golden buzzer’ question is how to change the status quo. While Linda might be unable to pull the million-dollar answer out of her pocket, she at least has a suggestion.
“One route to raising resources may be to create a scientific language to normalize the stigma associated with menstruation, which arguably taints all women’s health endeavors. Creating a “menstruation science language, just as we did breast cancer 40-50 years ago, may lift gynecology into a respected realm.”