By Hayley Leake – The path of pain science has been paved by many notable figures – Patrick Wall, Ron Melzack, Rene Descartes, Max Von Frey, the list goes on. As these names spring to mind, a palpable absence becomes apparent. Where are all the ladies!? A gender gap in scientific contributions still remains today. Some suggest that science may be built on the shoulders of women performing experiments while men take authorship roles. Perhaps Nettie Stevens, the so called “lab-technician” who discovered the chromosomal basis of sex (i.e. XX, XY), would agree.

So today, we would like to take pause to acknowledge some of the fabulous women who have laid stones on the pain science road we are now travelling down.

Denise Albe-Fessard


(1916 – 2003) This French neuroscientist carried out fundamental neurophysiological work on the organisation of central nociceptive pathways, clarifying the distinction between lateral and medial thalamic pain processing. She was also the very first president of the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). <learn more>

Huda Akil


(1945 -) A Syrian born scientist, Huda and her team looked at the role of endorphins and their receptors in pain and stress responsiveness. After suggesting the presence of endogenous, analgesic substance, they provided the first physiological evidence for a role of endogenous opioids in the brain, and showed that endorphins are activated by stress and cause pain inhibition. So we can give her some thanks for finding the drug cabinet in the brain! <learn more>

Candace Pert


(1946 – 2013) While we’re on the happy topic of opioids, lets give a shout out to Candace Pert, “The Mother of Psychoneuroimmunology”, and the American neuroscientist who discovered the opiate receptor. This is where the body’s “bliss-makers” bond with cells to weave their magic – sure sounds like a SIM! <learn more>

Rita Levi-Montalcini


(1909 – 2012) An Italian rounds up this group of internationally celebrated women. This incredible lady, who lived to the age of 103 is remembered for her discovery of nerve growth factor. Some tricky science with mouse tumor cells and chick embryos confirmed there was something that could promote nerve growth. With her colleague, Stanley Cohen, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1986.

If you want to continue appreciating women in science, check out Mary Broadfoot Walker, Rosalind Franklin, Elspeth McLachlan, Elizabeth Crosby and Augusta Marie Klimpke. Even better, share with us any women you think deserve a shout out!

About the contributor

hayley_leakeHayley Leake is a physiotherapist with a passion for pain education and research. She currently works with the Neuro Orthopaedic Institute creating educational resources to help create healthy notions of self through neuroscience knowledge.

You can connect with Hayley through Facebook or Twitter.

This piece originally appeared on Noijam and is republished here with the author’s express permission.