1 Dec 2017

The woman who declared war on cancer

A career in science or a family? That is a choice Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot, scientist and professor of cell biology and oncology, had to make in Italy in the 1970s. After “Italy forced her” to make the tough decision, she chose science.

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
The woman who declared war on cancer - NewsMavens
A scientist. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

A career in science or a family? That is a choice Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot, scientist and professor of cell biology and oncology, had to make in Italy in the 1970s. After “Italy forced her” to make the tough decision, she chose science.

Life has shown the Reggio nell'Emilia-born scientist that it was not impossible to have a career and a family at the same time. She moved to France where the atmosphere was much more open. “I was told that if I worked hard enough I could be successful in my field and have a family at the same time”.

She liked that attitude so she stayed and now works at the University Paris Descartes. When asked about her hero, Marie Curie, Paterlini-Bréchot declared that the physicist and chemist born 150 years ago contributed not only to science but to women’s rights as well.

“She set an example and showed the world that one can become a genius researcher, dedicate herself to passion and also have a family, raise children and just enjoy being a woman,” she said.

Paterlini-Bréchot was a little girl when she realized how deeply she was affected by human suffering. Often it took her days to get over the experience. She did not know what it meant to be a doctor but she knew, from a very early age, that her goal in life would be to help others.

Looking at the increasing number of women researchers completing their PhD, it seems that many young girls in Hungary feel the same way. According to the latest figures published by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office, in 2015, more Hungarian women received a PhD than men.

A special program initiated by the Hungarian Academy of Science might have had a positive effect on this because it offers a more flexible time frame for mothers who have children under 10 to complete certain projects.

Despite the positive developments, men are still overrepresented in the field of science. Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot believes that closing the gender gap can be achieved not only by increasing the number of women in positions of power. Women have a different way of seeing the world -- they care less about power and glory and more about improving the quality of life of the people who surround them. “This is why we need female role models,” she concludes.

Details from the story:

  • Paterlini-Bréchot and her team developed the ISET® Blood Cytopathology, which is the only validated method of diagnosing circulating cancer cells. Thanks to this technique, it is possible to diagnose invasive cancer several years in advance of the disease.
  • In her book, Uccidere il cancro (To Kill the Cancer) she declares war on cancer.
  • As she pointed out in the interview, genetics play a smaller role in the evolution of the disease than the toxic agents, which surround us. The scientist believes that we need legislation against adding hormones to cosmetic products and carcinogens to the soil, because eventually they end up in our food chain.
  • Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot is married to Christian Bréchot, physician and scientist, president of the Institut Pasteur. They have two sons.
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