International Women’s Day – Type 1 diabetes inspiraT1on from women past and present

Posted on 07 March 2018

Dorothy Hodgkin
Dorothy Hodgkin, who deciphered the structure of insulin in 1969

Who are the women searching for the type 1 diabetes cure? To mark International Women’s Day, we present a selection of women who are an inspiraT1on from the past and the present.


Elizabeth Hughes Gossett

Elizabeth Hughes Gossett became one of the first users of insulin at the age of 15, in 1922. She was diagnosed with what we now know to be type 1 diabetes in 1918, when life expectancy was typically a few days to a few months. She would defy this. Today, we recognise her as a pioneer.

When Elizabeth’s mother found out that a team at the University of Toronto succeeded in isolating the hormone insulin, she pleaded for her daughter to privately receive insulin shots. Her request was accepted and the two travelled more than 700km from their home in Washington, D.C.

The treatment meant Elizabeth lived another 58 years, during which she received an estimated 42,000 insulin shots.

Elizabeth Hughes Gossett
Elizabeth Hughes Gossett who became one of the first users of insulin at the age of 15, in 1922

Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin

Dorothy deciphered the structure of insulin in 1969. She was a British chemist who had also become the third woman to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1964.

Dorothy’s hunt for the structure of insulin took many years of study. Her patience was rewarded 34 years after she had taken her first X-ray photograph of an insulin crystal. She said:

“It was the most exciting moment of my life.”


Dr Kerry McLaughlin

Dr Kerry McLaughlin (University of Oxford) is studying a protein found in beta cells called tetraspanin-7. She is looking at how the protein could be used to predict who will develop type 1 diabetes. Read more.

“I really enjoy the day-to-day challenges of laboratory experiments, and celebrating the small victories.”

Professor Helen Colhoun

Professor Helen Colhoun (University of Edinburgh) is working with a focus on diabetes and its complications, taking a population level (or epidemiological) perspective. She uses data with the aim to discover the differences between those who go on to develop diabetes complications, and those who do not.

“My motivation is foremost to advance the quality and length of life for those with diabetes.”

Listen to Helen speaking about the importance of data in her work in this 3-minute video

Dr Sarah Richardson

Dr Sarah Richardson (University of Exeter) is investigating the role of a particular kind of virus in the onset of type 1 diabetes. She is studying how the virus infects beta cells and under what circumstances the infection triggers an attack by the immune system on the beta cells. Read more.

“Individuals with diabetes, their families and other diabetes researchers continually inspire me to work hard and to try and make a difference.”

Professor Stephanie Amiel

Professor Stephanie Amiel (King’s College London) is trialling a talking therapy programme to help adults manage hypo unawareness. The programme was successful in reducing the number of severe hypos experienced by the participants in a pilot study. Read more.

“We have made considerable progress, which keeps us going.”

Professor Susan Wong

Professor Susan Wong (Cardiff University) is working to improve a technique which uses genetically-modified immune cells to protect the beta cells in type 1 diabetes. The genetically-modified cells identify and bind to the immune cells that attack beta cells and mark them out for deletion. Read more.

“Working with people who have type 1 diabetes gives me the impetus to want to find new treatments.”


Girls doing science

At JDRF, our inspiraT1on is a world without type 1 diabetes. We salute the women who play a central role in type 1 diabetes research.

Explore our InspiraT1on Space – where people living with type 1 diabetes share the everyday things that motivate them. Sharing your inspiraT1on could help inspire others.